Erdoğan (CarstenS cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
Turkish press freedom has reached a new low in the most recent days. One Finnish journalist is being deported for writing a travel book, two Cumhuriyet reporters are going to prison for blasphemy and many more media companies will be invaded by the government.
By Laurens Bammens*
‘With this event we can say that we are turning towards North Korea’, said lawyer Mahmut Kaçan to Turkish Minute. Kaçcan is the lawyer of Finnish writer and journalist Taina Niemela. She was arrested on 26 April on the grounds of ‘spying activities’ and ‘acting for PKK/KCK’, a Kurdish militant organisation.
Niemela was working in the eastern Turkish province of Van. According to Niemela, she was writing a travel book about the region. Authorities wanted to know why she chose Turkey and why she chose the Van province. They said writing can be practised everywhere.
Shortly after her interrogation, it was decided that Niemela was to be deported from Turkey. The deportation shows that her detention was not on legal grounds according to her lawyer.
The tyranny upon the media does not stop there. Two Turkish Cumhuriyet reporters were sentenced to two years in prison yesterday. The only thing they did was reprint a Charlie Hebdo cover. That was enough to have them charged with blasphemy. The cover included cartoons of the prophet Muhammed.
Separation of AKP and state
Strangely enough, a religious remark by one of the MP’s in parliament on Monday turned the institution upside down. Parliament speaker for the AK Party İsmail Kahraman called for the removal of the principle of secularism in the constitution. So on the contrary, he wanted a religious constitution. Secularism is one of the pillars of the Republic of Turkey since its foundation by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Upon the controversy, members of CHP party caused a fight in the parliament. The parliament was then closed for two days. In some parts of the country, demonstrations were held for the principle of secularism.
President Erdoğan and the AKP were quick to distance themselves from the statement. The president said that the speaker for the AKP was merely expressing his own opinion. He said that his personal view and that of his party members was clear. Also Kahraman said he was only expressing his personal opinion.
According to Mustafa Sentop, the head of the parliamentary constitutional commission, the AKP did not discuss the abolishment of secularism in the constitution. AKP spokesperson Ömer Celik assured that secularism will also be part of the new charter made by the AKP.
So all that effort to deny a statement against religion being part of a nation. Yet when a cover of a satirical magazine is published, two journalists are sentenced to serve two years in prison for blasphemy.
Government killed the video star
And the news goes on. On Wednesday, a deputy from the opposition Republican’s People Party (CHP), Barış Yarkadaş, said that AKP will terminate eight more critical television channels. The channels would include: Can Erzincan TV, Van TV, Özgür Gün TV, Jiyan TV, Hayat TV, Azadi TV, IMC TV and Fox TV.
In October of 2015, the İpek Koza Holding was taken over by the government. The media holding was in charge of channels like Bugün TV and Kanaltürk. After the takeover, dozens of journalists were fired. The media now were silenced and are only allowed to report views that are in line with the government’s point of view. In December, 14 TV channels were simply taken of the air by the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat).
In March of this year, the government took over Feza Publishing, which included Turkey’s most popular newspapers Zaman and Today’s Zaman, the English language version.
Turkey has been having a long history of detaining and shutting down media. Many foreign journalists have been denied access from Turkey. Frederike Geerdink, a Dutch journalist in Diyarbakır was deported from Turkey last year on the grounds of ‘terror propaganda’.
Erdoğan’s grip has also been spreading to Europe where German comedian Jan Böhmermann is being prosecuted for insulting Erdoğan. A few days later, Ebru Umar, a Dutch columnist was detained by Turkish police because of one of her columns and a few tweets where she focused on Erdoğan.
**Laurens Bammens, PXL Journalism student and he is Dağ Medya Intern during the 15 February – 3 June 2016