Recent attacks on freedom of expression, the rule of law and access to reliable information point to a new wave of repression against opposition voices in Turkey.
That wave, including Osman Kavala’s rearrest, the arrest of 7 journalists and the sentencing of Diyarbakır Mayor Selçuk Mızraklı to 9 year and 4 months in jail, had actually been announced on the presidential jet on Feb. 26.
President Erdoğan always brings a selected team of journalist to his foreign country trips and meetings. On the way back to Turkey, it’s a routine for Erdoğan to answer questions, or rather, to deliver statements. The topics range from the actual meetings to any issue regarding Turkey and international affairs.
The following day, all pro-government websites and newspapers are filled with more or less the same headlines and news stories based on Erdoğan’s statements, usually, with a photograph showing these journalists, around their master with a proud smile. It goes without saying that an independent journalist can never enter this picture.
On his way back from Azerbaijan on Feb. 26, President Erdoğan was chatting with his favorite journalists. One of them asked what he thought of Kavala's release at the Gezi trial, also asking why OdaTV and its owner Soner Yalçın, were not being tried as they were targeted the government during Gezi.
Erdoğan was thankful that this issue was brought up. He made a speech on how Osman Kavala and OdaTV were to be blamed, that the Gezi protests were a betrayal, adding that the judiciary needed to do its job.
Of course, Erdoğan did not forget the HDP, claiming “Everything they do is a crime. New cases might be coming. Don’t ask why the President is saying this. It might, because everything is obvious.”
On March 9, only a day before the deadline for objection to the ECHR was expiring, Kavala’s arrest was renewed on the grounds of “new evidence” of espionage.
What about the recent arrest of journalists? The accusations have nothing to do with Kavala’s case or Gezi. Yet OdaTV was clearly targeted and it did not matter it was to be silenced.
The editor in chief Barış Pehlivan and senior editor and Cumhuriyet columnist Barış Terkoğlu are popular journalists, their latest book “Metastaz” was a bestseller. They revealed and documented how the judiciary is bribed, how it is connected to the Gülen movement and how new religious sects have been creeping into the bureaucracy since the 2016 coup attempt.
OdaTV published a story on the “silent burial” of two Intelligence Officers killed in Libya. Their names were not a state secret, their families had posted pictures of it on social media.
Yet reporter Hulya Kilinc and senior editor Terkoğlu as well as Pehlivan were accused of “obtaining documents and information concerning MIT’s duties and operations” “Facilitating the procurement of documents and information concerning MIT’s duties and operations” and “disclosing the contents of documents and information concerning MIT’s duties and operations” under Article 27.
As OdaTV's three journalists were questioned and were later arrested, the two editors of the pro-HDP newspaper Yeni Yaşam and one writer from the pro-IYI Party Yeniçağ newspaper were also brought to Court. Though they were released, the prosecutor called them again on Monday and they were arrested with the same accusations.
Meanwhile, OdaTV remains blocked. Pro-government voices have been targeting its owner and Sözcü newspaper writer Soner Yalçın. They warn he will be the “next one”.
Two other journalists were arrested last week: Rudaw reporter Rawin Sterk was among the many journalists detained at the Turkish border last week, as they covered the migrant story. Sterk was arrested on the grounds on “propaganda” based on his social media posts. Another journalist and writer, Alptekin Dursunoğlu was also arrested.
Back in 2010, it had already been Yalçın, Pehlivan, Terkoğlu along with Ahmet Şık had been sent to jail because they had revealed the power of the Gülenist organisation when it was still in power. The controversial OdaTV trial ended with the acquittal of all journalists in 2017.
It’s clear that none of these recent arrests have to do with law or crime, but are part of the government's agenda to suppress critical journalists. This agenda is shaped by a group of pro-governmental journalists, referred as the “Pelican group” financially supported by Erdoğan’s son in law, Minister of the Economy Berat Albayrak.
Albayrak's team opened new cases against Cumhuriyet and Evrensel, both publishing news stories on his financial affairs. Fatih Polat, the editor of Evrensel wrote that this vicious circle of criminalizing, targeting, arresting has become a sector in itself, affecting not only the ones singled out and jailed but also the people’s right to access information. This agenda undermines every other right: the right to object, protest, organize, and express oneself.