August 5, 2016
Journalists arrested and publishers shuttered in Turkey
by Jessica Yung
Something is rotten in the state of Turkey.
Two weeks ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency in order to investigate criminal conduct during that country’s failed coup of July 15th. But this decree has actually allowed the government to do something much more disconcerting: detain more than 18,000 people (coinciding with an expansion of Turkey’s legal detention period from four to thirty days) and shut down media outlets across the country. According to a report by PEN International, authorities have forced the closure of twenty-nine publishing houses, three news agencies, sixteen TV stations, twenty-three radio stations, thirty-six local newspapers, nine national newspapers, and fifteen magazines. At least forty journalists have been arrested, seventeen of them charged with membership in a terrorist group, according to the Guardian’s Chris Johnston and Josy Forsdike.
The “terrorist group” Erdoğan is worried about is most likely the movement led by Fethullah Gülen, a writer and former imam living in self-imposed exile in the United States. At the New York Times, Tim Arango and Ben Hubbard write that Erdoğan has accused Gülen of masterminding the coup, and that many of those targeted in the crackdown are suspected of ties to Gülen and his movement.
The Turkish Publishers Association has released a statement stating that “all goods, assets, rights, documents and papers belonging to [the twenty-nine shuttered publishers] will be transferred free of charge to the Turkish treasury, with no appeal to be made, and the prospect of further publishers being shut down in the future.” Authors and translators who published books with those companies will never be paid, since there is no longer a place for them to collect their money from. And anyone who worked at these companies, “with no criminal involvement, will [be] denied their rights, their jobs, and any outstanding wages.”
It’s important to point out that Turkey has been exerting this kind of control over its media outlets since before the chaotic political situation that currently envelopes it — the country has a history of censorship, of silencing voices that criticize its government both domestically and abroad. Just this past March, Flood writes, the formerly anti-Erdoğan Zaman newspaper, one of the country’s major dailies, was placed under the direction of a new, state-appointed board, and promptly made a political about-face. According to Johnston and Forsdike, Erdoğan, in what “could be an attempt to silence his western critics,” has also announced that he will drop “more than 1,800 cases against journalists, cartoonists and even children for insulting [him] since he became president in 2014.” While the elimination of charges will surely be welcome news to many, their very existence may at the same time be read as evidence of serious repression.
This crackdown is certainly one of the largest threats to freedom of speech and press in the country that we’ve seen in recent years. Carlos Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, said in a statement, “No one denies that the Turkish government has the right to investigate the coup plotters but this disproportionate crackdown on the media in response to the attempted coup is crushing free expression, the cornerstone of democracy, at a time when it is needed more than ever.”
The Guardian’s Alison Flood compiled the following list of the publishers that have been shut down. Each of these was a business—somebody’s livelihood—and each played a role in the intellectual ecology of Turkey to which its forced closure testifies:
Altın Burç, Burak Basın Yayın, Define, Dolunay Eğitim, Giresun Basın Yayın, Gonca, Gülyurdu, GYV, Işık Akademi, Işık Özel Eğitim, Işık, İklim Basım Yayın Pazarlama, Kaydırak, Kaynak, Kervan Basın, Kuşak, Muştu, Nil, Rehber, Sürat Basım Yayın Reklâmcılık, Sütun, Şahdamar, Ufuk Basın Yayın Haber Ajans Pazarlama, Ufuk Yayınları, Waşanxaneya Nil, Yay Basın Dağıtım Paz Reklâmcılık, Yeni Akademi, Yitik Hazine, and Zambak Basım Yayın Eğitim Turizm.
Jessica Yung is an intern at Melville House.