“I was subjected to violence and sexual abuse. I was interrogated day and night for eight days. They [police officers] questioned me while they were drunk. When the court process began, I was sent to prison. Later, they put me in a cell, in solitary confinement… I’m afraid I’ll be forgotten here.”
Read these words not with your eyes but with your heart, your wisdom and your conscience, for these words are from a letter by 24-year-old Ayşenur Parıldak, a reporter from the now-closed Turkish daily, Zaman. She has been under arrest since 11 August, 2016.
She is lucky in a sense, having managed to secretly send a letter to a Turkish daily via her lawyer and make her desperate situation heard by the outside world. Dozens of her colleagues are silently living out their lives behind bars, under very poor conditions and under ever-increasing government persecution across Turkey.
Political oppression of Turkey’s media and Turkish journalists has always existed and has often been covered by many media outlets around the world. However, the mass closure of newspapers and TV stations, the arrests of journalists, editors and columnists and the allegations of ruthless torture in prisons have come to the fore only in the recent past.
In fact, reports of the ill treatment of journalists in the country are frequently shocking. For instance, police officers tortured Adnan Kümek, a reporter for the Azadiya Welat newspaper, by pouring molten plastic on his legs during the two days he was held in an unofficial detention centre in eastern Turkey.
“Police officers grabbed my personnel card, melted it and poured it on my legs. I was tortured for two days,” Kümek told the DİHA news agency on 8 October.
“I was forced into a police car and we went back to Bitlis. police officers swore and insulted me the whole way there. I at first thought we were going to a police station, but later saw I was placed in an abandoned building outside of Bitlis,” said Kümek.
Days after the coup attempt of July 15, the Turkish government literally launched a war against critical media outlets and journalists. Since the attempt, 180 local and national TV stations, newspapers, magazines and radio stations have been shut down.
There were 133 journalists in prisons across the country as of 27 October, seventy of them are being held over alleged “involvement” in the coup attempt. Among them are also Turkey’s prestigious columnists, journalists, editors and academics.
Ahmet Altan, one of Turkey’s most important writers, whose novels appear in translation and sell in the millions, and his brother, Mehmet Altan, a prominent academic and a columnist whose numerous books sought to rebuild Turkey’s identity not on race or religion, but on respect for human rights, were arrested on 12 September.
They are accused of announcing the news about the July 15 coup attempt during a live TV program on Can Erzincan TV on 14 July.
Sixty-two-year-old columnist, novelist and author Ahmet Turan Alkan; columnist and former prosecutor Gültekin Avcı, who suffers from a critical lung disease; Turkish journalist Emre Soncan, who suffers from a critical kidney disease; veteran court reporter and lawyer Büşra Erdal; well-known Turkish journalist and former MP Nazlı Ilıcak; Turkish theologian and columnist Ali Bulaç; prize-winning Turkish novelist Aslı Erdoğan; political scientist and columnist Mümtaz’er Türköne; Turkish linguist and writer Necmiye Alpay; columnist and academic Şahin Alpay, ex-Zaman daily photographer Bünyamin Köseli; and ex-Zaman daily political reporter Yakup Çetin are just some of the names who have been arrested in the aftermath of the coup attempt.
The main “reason” cited for the arrest of all these journalists is their alleged “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “attempting to dissolve the government of the Republic of Turkey, or partially or entirely preventing its performance by the use of force or threats.”
In addition to the arrests, the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) announced on 4 October that the number of Turkey-based journalists who have lost their jobs since July 15 has reached 3,000, bringing up the total number of unemployed media personnel to over 10,000.The Turkish government has gone after not only the journalists within the borders of the country, but also those abroad.
Early on 28 September, officials at the Turkish Consulate General in New York confiscated the passport of former Today’s Zaman reporter, Arslan Ayan. They reportedly defended the confiscation citing an outstanding detention warrant for Ayan in Turkey.
In a similar example, the Turkish government canceled the passport of former Yarına Bakış columnist Mehmet Efe Caman “due to the ongoing situation in Turkey,” officials from the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa told the columnist on 1 September.
“My passport has been canceled. My wife’s and my kids’ passports, too. Without any legal cause. I am ashamed to be a citizen of this county,” Caman tweeted.
It appears the tremendous pressure on the Turkish media and critical journalists is likely to continue for an indefinite period of time. However, what is more heartbreaking is seeing this oppression embraced by a large part of society.
The words reportedly uttered by a high-ranking police officer to former Zaman daily columnist Ali Bulaç – who has been in Silivri Prison since 28 July on coup charges – that he will suffer even more in prison as he did not support President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sum up the dominant mentality in the country.
“You, Ali Bulaç, you didn’t act like Ahmet Taşgetiren [a pro-government columnist]. Look, where is he now, and where are you? You didn’t know the value of [Erdoğan]. You are now in prison at this age and you will suffer even more.”