President Erdogan supporters unfolding the national flag of Turkey during after coup demonstrations at Taksim square, Istanbul, 20 July 2016. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/CC BY
On 15 July 2016, chaos filled the streets of Turkey. Allegedly, it was a fraction of the Turkish military that tried to stage a coup to overthrow Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the President of Turkey since 2003. The coup failed, and in the aftermath President Erdogan began to purge the ranks of accused conspirators. Members of the media sector as well as the academic world and judiciary bore the brunt of the government’s attempt to rid itself of those it deemed were working against it.
In the year that has passed since the coup attempt, Turkey has seen what Reporters Without Borders has dubbed a “witch hunt” against media associated with the Gülen movement, which Erdogan sees as instigators of the coup, but also against pro-Kurdish media and independent media voices who are critical of President Erdogan.
Deutsche Welle reports that hundreds of media and publishing outlets have been closed, websites blocked and thousands of journalists and media workers have lost their jobs, their press credentials, had their properties confiscated, and are banned from leaving the country. In the worst cases, media workers have been jailed.
Even though Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and other press freedom and rights organisations report that the past year’s crackdowns on journalists is not a new phenomenon in the country, but rather a culmination of years of increasing restrictions on the Turkish press, the shere number of journalists in prison waiting for their cases to be processed speaks for itself.
Find more information about journalists imprisoned at: http://platform24.org/en/media-monitoring
Thoughts on trial
Two of the most discussed arrests are those of the brothers Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, two prominent figures known for promoting liberal democracy in Turkey.
Ahmet Altan, born 1950, is a renowned journalist and writer and was the editor of the newspaper Taraf, known for its liberal views and which was closed by the authorities shortly after the coup. His younger brother Mehmet is also a journalist and author as well as a scholar affiliated with the Faculty of Economy at Istanbul University.
The brothers’ trial began only on 19 June 2017, but they have been in jail without trial since September 2016 accused of attempting to overthrow the government and of acting on behalf of a terror organisation (the Gülen movement). The two face possible life sentences.
According to the Guardian, Mehmet Altan said in his defence statement:
“Today I stand before you… as someone whose thoughts are on trial.”
The possibility of a fair trial is challenged by the fact that a quarter of the members of the judiciary have been removed from their posts and replaced.
The weakening of the independent media sector has left Turkey with a dominance of pro-government media. This was for instance seen in the constitutional referendum in April 2017, where the period leading up to the referendum was characterised by governmental control of theinformation landscape and a subsequent focus on the “yes” campaign, which Erdogan was leading.
See also Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) for an in-depth monitoring of the developments in Turkey: https://cpj.org/europe/turkey/