Turkey justifies prosecution of journalists with McCarthy era relic laws

Turkish prosecutor justified the trumped-up terror and coup charges against 29 journalists who have been in prison pending trial since July of last year by citing McCarthyism era witch-hunt practices against the communists in the US as well as the 1951 US Supreme Court decision that was later, in most part, rendered unenforceable.

196-page indictment lists serious charges against journalists ranging from being a member of a terror group to plotting to overthrow the government. Yet it lacks any evidence of a crime or violence other than critical articles, Tweet messages and published news stories that should be considered as part of profession for members of media.

In a bizarre twist in the indictment, Public Prosecutor Murat Çağlak in Istanbul courthouse quoted McCarthyism era witch-hunt practices targeting Communist Party members as an example on how to limit freedom of speech and expression. Citing the US Supreme Court decision on the case of Dennis v. United States (1951), Turkish prosecutor said the Court upheld convictions against individuals suspected of publicly supporting communism, stressing that there were limits on free speech, and that advocating the overthrow of the United States government represented a “clear and present danger”.

Yet Çağlak skipped mentioning that prosecutions under McCarthyism era had come to a halt when the Supreme Court ruled in 1957 in Yates v. United States case that there was a difference between teaching Marxism as a concept—which was protected under the First Amendment—and inciting the actual overthrow of the United States. The decision stopped prosecutions against communists by limiting the application of the Smith Act to such a degree that it became nearly unenforceable.

Turkish journalists who have been charged under anti-terror and anti-coup laws have been known to be fierce critics of the coup and staunch opponents of any violence and terror. What is more, Prosecutor Çağlak did not even include a single evidence even hinting that any of these journalists advocated a violence or toppling the government.

Turkish prosecutor also mentioned that 1919 Schenck v. United States case where the Supreme Court came up with “clear and present danger” test to determine when a state could constitutionally limit an individual’s free speech rights under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. While he invoked Schenck case to build his own case against Turkish journalists, prosecutor Çağlak forgot to include 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio case that the US Supreme Court replaced Schenck test with the “imminent lawless action” test, one that protects a broader range of speech.

The indictment against critical and independent journalists was submitted to the court on Jan.16 and the first hearing is expected to be held in middle of March.

Raising the issue of a corruption case that implicated the ruling party AKP, President Erdogan’s family and Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who bribed AKP ministers and is currently in pretrial detention in the US for violating Iran sanctions, is also cited as a red flag and connection to terrorist activity in the long indictment. According to the indictment, news coverage on Zarrab and the corruption case is considered proof of terrorist activity.

Under indictment are the following journalists, many of whom were employees of the Zaman media group, which was considered the flagship media organization of the Hizmet movement that is inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, a vocal critic of Erdogan on corruption and aiding and abetting armed Jihadists in Syria:

Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bülent Ceyhan, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Davut Aydın, Emre Soncan, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habib Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammed Sait Kuloğlu, Muhterem Tanık, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Oğuz Usluer, Said Sefa, Seyid Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin, Yetkin Yıldız.

The indictment fails to provide any evidence of violence or terrorist activity, yet claims that “FETÖ”, a derogatory term used by government to refer Hizmet movement as terror group, used the media for what it called a “social engineering and perception management”. The prosecutor argued that media organizations which serve to “legitimize terrorist activities” cannot enjoy freedom of expression.

Gökçe Fırat, well known for his strong objections to the Gülen movement and his ultranationalist secular stance, is also named in the indictment due to his criticism of President Erdogan. Atilla Taş and jailed columnist Murat Aksoy are also known for their affiliation with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

According to a report published on Jan. 26 by new advocacy group the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) 191 journalists are in jail, 92 are wanted and 839 have been charged in Turkey.

In a currently ongoing post-coup purge, over 135,000 government employees including doctors, teachers, academics, officers, artists, judges, and prosecutors were dismissed by government decisions that were not subject to any judicial or legislative reviews.

So far, almost 90,000 people were detained without charges and close to 45,000 people were placed in pre-trial detention in Turkey.

In May 2014, Erdogan, while defending an ongoing government-sponsored wave of purges of public officials, said that the government will carry out a “witch-hunt” no matter what others say about it.

“If reassigning individuals who betray this country is called a witch hunt, then yes, we will carry out this witch hunt,” Erdogan said while delivering a speech at the 22nd Consultation and Assessment Meeting of AKP in Afyonkarahisar. (February 12, 2017)








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