June 16, 2017

Turkish crackdown continues, with two magazine editors jailed for perceived insults


Via WikiMedia Commons.

The situation in Turkey continues to deteriorate. In the last few weeks, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian regime has sentenced a Minister of Parliament to twenty-five years in prison for divulging “state secrets,” arrested a judge from the UN’s Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, and denounced the US’s decision to pursue criminal charges against a group of twelve Turkish security guards for kicking the shit out of a group of Kurdish protestors in DC last month. In the last fifteen days alone, almost 2,500 people have been detained or arrested, including Taner Kilic, a local chair of Amnesty International.

In addition to pursuing individuals allegedly linked to the so-called Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETO), the regime has continued to apprehend and harass magazine and book editors across the country.

On Thursday, an Istanbul court indicted Oğuz Güven, web editor of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, according to a report by YeniSafak. Güyen was arrested on May 12, and has been released until his hearing in September. He faces up to ten years in prison for creating and disseminating terrorist propaganda. These charges stem from an article that ran on the Cumhuriyet website about the death of Mustafa Alper, a prosecutor in southwest Turkey who was killed in a truck accident in May. According to YeniSafak, prosecutors found that the piece was insulting to the memory of the deceased (which is apparently a crime in Turkey) and to the office Alper held. Güven is not the first Cumhuriyet staffer to face suspicious legal proceedings.

In a separate case, prosecutors have also filed charges against the chief editor of Derin Tarih, Mustafa Armağan, for an article that magazine ran on Latife Hanım, wife of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Defamation of Atatürk is a criminal offense in Turkey, and according to the indictment, “the article was written with criminal intent to discredit Atatürk.” Armağan insists that the material in question was sourced from other books and newspapers, and merely reflects the historical record.

Erdoğan’s animus towards media figures, academics, and publishers—not to mention his aggression towards more traditional political opponents—is a chilling sign of the country’s steady march from authoritarianism towards totalitarianism, and the situation seems likely to get worse before it gets better. While the Turkish constitution nominally protects the freedom of the press and outlaws direct censorship, the current regime has been able to effectively weaponize a small handful of exceptions to that blanket protection through Article 301 of the constitution, which prohibits speech defaming Atatürk, “Turkishness,” and Turkish civic institutions.

This should be a sobering reminder that, unless the freedom of the press is absolute, it doesn’t really exist. As we continue to debate appropriate legal restrictions on whistleblowing and government leaks in our own country, we should consider how quickly “reasonable” limits on our freedoms can be converted into highly effective tools of repression.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.