On Dec. 3, 1994, the Istanbul bureau, the Istanbul technical building, and the Ankara bureau of the Özgür Ülke (Free Country) newspaper were bombed. One employee was killed and 23 were injured in the attacks. The perpetrators of the bombing were never caught. The next day, the newspaper came out with a headline that read “This fire can burn you too!” On the 25th anniversary of the attack, journalists read a press statement in front of the Istanbul Kadırga technical building.
According to the Mesopotamia News Agency, journalists who worked at the paper and at those that succeeded it brandished a banner reading “the free press cannot be silenced” and held photos of journalists and writers that have been killed over the years.
“It was exactly 25 years ago today, earlier in the day as I walked down a hill I heard the sounds of firetrucks. In the area there were shoemakers and since they used paint thinner, fires were continually breaking out. I figured that it was one of those fires. However, our newspaper was burned. A blackened building stood in front of me. Police came and prevented entry into the building,” said Hüseyin Akyol, a journalist who also was working for a different magazine at the time. Akyol said that he went to that magazine given that he was not allowed entry into the building, and that newspaper staff managed to still put out the next day’s paper, even if it was only four pages.
Akyol explained that over the years the state closed down scores of pro-Kurdish, leftist newspapers:
“After that day we put out 46 more newspapers. In the tradition of the free press, we put out 52 newspapers, and they shut down all 52. They bombed us, but we started again from the beginning and have arrived at the present. We are still continuing, and those who bombed us are not remembered well at all, because we revealed that we were bombed with the orders of Tansu Çiller, the prime minister of the time,” Akyol said.
“Özgür Ülke was the publishing outlet that faced the most pressure in this geography. Many employees, from a 9-year-old paper boy to 74-year-old writer Musa Anter. None of their killers were every found. [Former national police chief and justice minister] Mehmet Ağar was among those giving the orders for this massacre, and he was tried by the ruling party as the leader of a criminal organization and was imprisoned. But now Mehmet Ağar is close to the ruling party, as is Tansu Çiller. The deep state still carries out its power. As human rights defenders, we’ve always tried to stand by the newspaper,” said Human Rights Association (IHD) co-president Eren Keskin.
‘Operation Olive Branch’ related hearings continue
Meanwhile on Tuesday, an Ankara court denied an acquittal request for journalists being tried for social media posts they shared regarding Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch in the northwestern Syrian district of Afrin in January 2018. Journalists Sibel Hürtaş and Hayri Demir were detained in January of last year and charged with ‘conducting propaganda for an illegal organization’ and ‘provoking hatred and hostility among the public.’
Demir said that the ongoing two-year trial has put him in a very difficult situation, while giving his statement at the hearing. The court denied the journalists requests to be acquitted and scheduled a subsequent hearing for March 2020.