Turkey’s War Against Journalism
According to officials in the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey plans to expand the definition of “terror crime” to include media reports deemed to support or praise acts of violence.
On Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s counterterrorism laws, which have been used to shut down newspapers, jail academics and journalists, should be expanded. According to Deutsche Welle, a German international broadcaster, Erdogan told local leaders Wednesday that “democracy, freedom and the rule of law” have “absolutely no value any longer” in light of a suicide bombing Sunday in the capital that took the lives of 37 people and injured 125.
Police detained 20 suspects, including lawyers, across Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, on Wednesday in an operation targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), accused of carrying out the bombing in Ankara on Sunday, the state-run Anadolu agency said.
A court meanwhile sent three academics to jail on Tuesday pending trial on charges of “terrorist propaganda” after they publicly read a declaration reiterating a call to end military operations in the mainly Kurdish south-east.
“A man may not have participated directly in terrorist acts but may have supported them ideologically. This may not be a full terror crime, but a degree of terror crime,” a legal expert in the ruling AK party familiar with the plans said on Wednesday.
“It is planned to broaden the extent of the law,” he told Reuters, adding that the justice ministry had planned the steps before the bombing in Ankara.
Chris Stephenson, a Briton and teacher at Istanbul Bilgi University, was detained overnight this week for an alleged terrorism offense after going to court and showing support for the academics. After his release, Stephenson, who is married to a Turk and has lived in Turkey since 1991, was escorted to the airport for deportation.
The attacks are widely considered to be a reaction to the growing military campaign against the PKK in the southeast. Erdogan said Wednesday that some of the arms confiscated from the PKK came from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (which the United States has provided with air support in their fight against Islamic State in Syria), the Syrian Democratic Union Party, Russia and the West (including the United States).
Erdogan also warned that “[t]hose who support directly or indirectly people who destroy innocent lives are not in the slightest different from terrorists,” and that “[w]e must immediately revise the definition of terror and terrorist. In line with this new definition, we must immediately change the penal code.” His call for change to the penal code appears intended to affect the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose elected officials generally hold left-wing pro-Kurdish and pro-minority views.
Turkey’s parliament has set up a committee to consider lifting the immunity of five members of parliament (MPs) from the HDP, including party leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. This would make it possible to try them over their call for Kurdish autonomy.
Erdogan called on parliament to swiftly end immunity from prosecution for pro-Kurdish lawmakers.
“I no longer see as legitimate political actors the members of a party which is operating as a branch of the terrorist organization,” Erdogan said, repeating his claim that the HDP is a front for the outlawed PKK.
Turkish media reported that a simple majority in a vote in parliament—where Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) holds over half the seats—would be enough to strip the MPs of their immunity.
A powerful Syrian Kurdish political party said Wednesday that it planned to declare a federal region in northern Syria, across the border from Turkey. Erdogan said Turkey would not support any form of Kurdish self-rule in the country.
The HDP condemned Sunday’s attack. As with past attacks, the government prohibited reporting and news broadcasts and barred the use of social media after the bombing.
The attack on media and journalism comes within weeks of the government takeover of Turkey’s two largest newspapers, Cihan and Zaman. The Guardian reported that in the case of the Zaman seizure, the police violently cracked down on protesters outside the newspaper offices before entering.
Yavuz Baydar, a founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism, told The Guardian, “The seizure of the news agency following that of Zaman is another nail in the coffin of journalism in Turkey,” and that the agency “was known for independently monitoring each and every election in Turkey. The real effects of its closure cannot yet be understood, neither by the local nor by the global public.” According to Baydar, 1,300 journalists face dismissal and 2,000 others have already been laid off since the Gezi Park protests, a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest that began on May 28, 2013.
Turkey is currently conducting negotiations with the European Union to reach a deal over the influx of Syrian refugees from Turkey. The deal, being brokered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, would allow visa-free travel from Turkey to most of Europe and help with Turkey’s prospects for joining the EU. Turkey would receive additional financial help for its nearly 3 million refugees and would take back those who entered Greece using secret routes. For every Syrian sent back, one refugee would be permitted to enter another European country.
— Posted by Donald Kaufman.
Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges sued President Obama in 2012 over the National Defense Authorization Act in part because of concern over its effect on the government’s relationship with journalism. Read about it here.