A young journalist who is the producer and presenter of a culture program on a national TV in Turkey has been behind bars for 343 days for cancelling his subscription to a cable TV network as a protest.
30-year-old journalist Mehmet Semiz, an employee of a national network Irmak TV that featured culture was arrested over farcical terror charges just like hundreds of others in Turkey as part of an unprecedented government crackdown on critical and independent media.
The network was seized by the government on March 12, 2016 and completely shut down in the aftermath of failed coup bid of July 15, 2016 that many believe orchestrated by the government to set up its critics for a mass persecution.
The police raided Semiz’s home in İstanbul at 4 a.m. in the morning on November 11, 2016 and detained him on the spot. He was thrown in a detention cell and stayed there 26 days, four days before the completion of maximum detention period which was extended to 30 days from a week under the emergency rule declared by the government on July 21, 2016. He was formally arrested on dubious charges after enduring weeks of torture and was subjected physical and psychological abuse. He was jailed in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison on December 6, 2016.
He was able to learn about the charges and then evidence against him months later when the prosecutor finally filed the indictment. The prosecutor claimed Semiz is an administrator and a member a terror organization called FETÖ, a derogatory term coined by the authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government to refer to members of the civic Gülen movement. He faces up to 22-year prison sentence if gets convicted on these absurd charges.
The most scandalous accusation brought against Semiz by the prosecutor is that his cancellation of the subscription to Digiturk, a cable TV network, in protest of Digiturk’s removing a number of critical TV channels including Irmak TV from its line-ups late in 2015. Thousands of citizens, as well as many lawmakers from opposition parties joined the nationwide boycott campaign against the pro-government cable company that was trying to curtail the reach of critical TVs to audience.
A recent report published by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reveals how a civil, democratic and lawful boycott is considered to be an evidence by partisan judiciary to charge victims with terror crimes.
The prosecutor also presents Semiz’s subscription of Zaman daily, one-time best-selling newspaper of Turkey until the government unlawfully took over one week before Irmak TV’s seizure. Both the network and the newspaper were actually owned by the same holding company called Feza Gazetecilik. Hence, he was accused of terrorism for subscribing and reading a newspaper published by the corporate entity he had worked.
Another purported evidence in the indictment is his deposits at Bank Asya that is affiliated with the Gülen movement which was one of the three banks with the highest liquidity in Turkey. The government unlawfully took over the bank on February 4, 2015, contrary to strict statutory banking regulations against such a drastic move.
Semiz appeared before judges for the first time on October 10, 2017. As expected, he denied all accusations against him. He asked the court panel how the prosecutor reached a decision that he was leading a terror organization in the light of evidence referred in the indictment. He could not receive any answer, yet, the court ruled the continuation of his arrest.
The young journalist suffered not only from the loss of his freedom but also his deteriorating health in the prison. He is coping with gallbladder disorder. Despite doctors expressed that surgery was the only option for recovery, the prison management remained unwilling to make sure he gets the treatment. The family appealed to Forensic Medicine Institution (Adli Tıp Kurumu in Turkish) for a permit that would allow him to get treated. The family was told that the application is still under review.
Semiz who moved to İstanbul to chase his dream of becoming a reporter in 2011 started his career as an intern at Cihan Radyo, a national radio station that featured mostly cultural shows. He got married in 2014. As he had proved himself to be quite tech savvy in broadcasting, the promising journalist was tapped by editors of Irmak TV who hired him for the newtork. He worked as a video editor and worked his way up to become a producer. He eventually landed a dream job of becoming a presenter for his own show Akşam Çayı (Evening Tea). Just when he thought things could not be any better for him, the government took over the network, dismissed editors and reporters including him from their jobs.
His passion has always been on cultural issues and did not show much interest in politics. This young professional journalist now awaits his next hearing that will be held on November 3, 2017.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Centre for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 259 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of October 17, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 235 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 133 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.