June 29, 2018
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wins re-election in Turkey, further endangering writers and journalists throughout the country
by Simon Reichley
Four days ago, Muharram Ince conceded Turkey’s presidential election to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) lost some ground in parliament, Erdoğan himself outperformed many expectations, taking 52.5 percent of the vote, and avoiding the runoff election some observers had predicted. The election was the first since the AKP passed sweeping constitutional reforms in 2017, which included a significant expansion of presidential powers.
This is terrible news for writers and journalists in Turkey, who, since a failed coup in 2016, have been a primary target of state-directed political and economic oppression. Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other country, and the AKP, with the assistance of private capital sympathetic to the party, has achieved a truly astonishing level of control over the nation’s media landscape. As Shawn Carrié and Asmaa Omar note in a terrific profile at the Columbia Journalism Review, there remains only a single truly independent newspaper in the country, Cumhuriyet, which was established by the decree of Kemal Ataturk, at the founding of the modern Turkish state, and which may be run out of business by the mountains of fines being levied against it on charges of defamation.
In such a bleak situation, all good news, however tepid, is welcome. And luckily, just yesterday, such news arrived. According to a news brief at Reporters Without Borders, a regional court in Istanbul ordered the immediate release of Mehmet Altan, a novelist and journalist who has been on trial since September of last year, accused of “giving subliminal messages in favour of a coup on television.”
A decision calling for Altan’s release was actually issued by Turkey’s Constitutional Court in January. While it’s good that those orders are finally being enacted, it’s very troubling that the state took six months to do it. And of course Altan’s brother, Ahmet Altan, along with several other journalists and writers including Nazlı Ilıcak, remains in custody on similar charges.
The referendum of 2017, and the results of this week’s election, have given Erdoğan and the AKP even more license to bully, persecute, censure, and imprison political opponents of all stripes. It is a saddening thought, but Altan’s release will likely be the last good thing to befall the literary and journalistic community in Turkey for quite some time.
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.