“A prominent columnist wrote recently about how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey hates cigarettes so much that he confiscates packs from his followers, lecturing them on the evils of smoking.The columnist, Kadri Gursel, then urged his readers to protest the president’s anti-democratic ways by lighting a cigarette and not putting it out. For that, Mr. Gursel was arrested on terrorism charges and is being held in pretrial detention, one of 120 journalists who have been jailed in Turkey’s crackdown on the news media since a failed coup attempt in July,” an article released by New York Times’ Rod Norland read on Nov. 17.
The article was released days after the İstanbul 9th Penal Court of Peacecourt arrested nine journalists and executives from the Cumhuriyet daily, including its Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu.
What follows is Mr. Norland’s full article.
The columnist, Kadri Gursel, then urged his readers to protest the president’s anti-democratic ways by lighting a cigarette and not putting it out.
For that, Mr. Gursel was arrested on terrorism charges and is being held in pretrial detention, one of 120 journalists who have been jailed in Turkey’s crackdown on the news media since a failed coup attempt in July. There, he has the company of 10 colleagues from his newspaper, Cumhuriyet, the country’s last major independent publication. Among them are its editor and the paper’s chief executive, arrested as he stepped off a flight to Istanbul last Friday.
Turkey now has handily outstripped China as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, according to figures compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The jailings are the most obvious example of an effort to muzzle not just the free press, but free speech generally. More than 3,000 Turks have faced charges of insulting the president, including a former Miss Turkey, Merve Buyuksarac, who posted on Instagram a satirical rewording of the country’s national anthem as if Mr. Erdogan were singing:
I am like a wild flood, I smash over the law and beyond
I follow state bids, take my bribe and live.
She was sentenced to 14 months in prison, suspended on the condition that she not repeat any offensive remarks.
The government and its supporters are behind a wave of demands to Twitter to remove offending posts, more than all other countries in the world put together, according to Twitter’s Transparency Report. (Of 20,000 Twitter accounts affected worldwide this year, 15,000 were Turkish.)
Several journalists — including Mr. Gursel, whose column was published three days before the coup attempt — have been retroactively accused of “subliminal” messaging in support of the July uprising.
Even more risky now is anything viewed as support for the outlawed Kurdish nationalist party, the PKK. Some have been attacked for calling members of the group “militants,” rather than “terrorists.” Others are in jail for advocating a resumption of the collapsed peace process with the Kurdish guerrillas — although few here dare use the word “guerrilla.”
Failing to mention how many people were killed in the attempted coup, in any article about it, is also considered proof of terrorist sympathies.
Others have been convicted of terrorism charges for reporting on a 2015 scandal in which Mr. Erdogan’s government was accused of supplying weapons to the Islamic State, which it is now fighting in Syria. One of those is Cumhuriyet’s former editor in chief, Can Dundar, who was free on appeal when he announced in August that he was not returning from a trip to Germany, saying he could not expect a fair trial in the wake of the coup attempt.
In addition to the jailings here, some 150 news outlets have been shuttered, ranging from TV stations to online enterprises, according to Erol Onderoglu, the Turkish representative for Reporters Without Borders. But probably the most corrosive long-term effect of the crackdown has been a highly effective government push for businessmen who are loyal to it to take over ownership of many of the remaining outlets, turning them into avid cheerleaders for Mr. Erdogan and his policies.
“What’s left, they are all basically Pravda,” said Gulsin Harman, who left her job as a foreign editor at Milliyet, a once independent newspaper that is now owned by an Erdogan crony.
“There is no more critical journalism, 90 percent of the free press is destroyed directly or indirectly,” Mr. Onderoglu said. “Investigative journalism is considered treason. Journalism has been stolen by the government.”
Asked for comment, a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with official policy, maintained that the journalists in jail in Turkey were there for criminal and terrorist offenses, not for their journalism. He also said there remained many publications in Turkey that were critical of the government.
There have been press crackdowns in Turkey before, especially during periods of military rule, and even Mr. Erdogan and his government have used press laws and intimidation against journalists on a large scale since 2012. But the sweeping emergency powers granted to Mr. Erdogan after the failed military coup against him, by supporters of the exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, have greatly accelerated the crackdown.
“Never has there been such a dark period as this,” said Ayse Yildirim, a Cumhuriyet columnist, who found out by accident that criminal charges had been lodged against her for reporting on a Kurdish baby killed by a police bullet at a protest.
In addition to Mr. Dundar and the 11 Cumhuriyet staff members in jail, the paper’s employees are fending off an estimated 100 other criminal cases against them on a variety of charges, such as offending Turkishness, the president or local officials; terrorism; and membership in the PKK.
“Now even publishing a not-nice picture of Erdogan would be trouble,” said one prominent journalist, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because she feared she would be arrested, as many of her colleagues have been. “Now we even have ministers calling us and saying, ‘Why did you run that picture of me? I don’t like the way it looks,’ ” she said.
Some of the most virulent attacks on independent-minded journalists have come from journalists in the pro-Erdogan press who are known by their colleagues as “hit men.” First they attack the target by name, then personally lobby with intimidated media owners or the government to have the person fired or jailed.
The most notorious — and effective — of such hit men is a television commentator and social media activist named Cem Kucuk, a nationalist who many journalists say is really a government operative. When a New York Times journalist telephoned to arrange an interview with him, his colleagues said he could more easily be reached at the president’s office.
Mr. Kucuk laughed about that comment, saying, “No, no, I’m very close to Erdogan.” He denied he was a presidential employee, but made no apologies for advocating the jailing of journalists he views as “traitors” and supporters of terrorists.
“I don’t care what they call me,” he said. “In all of Turkey, people like me.” As for the spectacle of so many Turkish journalists behind bars, he said, “They deserve it.”
He said that Western countries had also jailed journalists, citing examples like the former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, jailed for refusing to reveal a source, and employees of the British tabloid News of the World, jailed for telephone hacking and the bribery of police officers.
Recently, a wiretap of a phone call between Mr. Erdogan and Erdogan Demiroren, the owner of the Milliyet newspaper, was posted on YouTube. In it, Mr. Demiroren is heard apologizing for the paper’s publication of leaked minutes of a secret meeting between Kurdish leaders who were discussing peace negotiations that have since been abandoned.
Mr. Demiroren says to the president, “Did I upset you, boss?” As Mr. Erdogan berates him, the paper’s owner begins weeping as he apologizes and promises to find out who leaked the documents to his paper. Mr. Erdogan denounces “this disgraceful, dishonest, vile man who puts a headline and wants to sabotage this process.” No one has challenged the tape’s authenticity.
There have been efforts at solidarity among some journalists. When the Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem was under attack, prominent journalists from many other publications took turns guest editing it, one each day. A hundred did so, and 50 of them were hit with criminal charges, accused of various terrorism offenses for what the paper published the next day.
Mr. Kucuk said it would not be necessary for Turkey’s remaining big newspapers to be shut down, as so many other outlets have been, because they had been brought to heel. The foundation that owns Cumhuriyet, he predicted, would soon be taken over by a group of hard-liners more friendly to the president.
“I can foresee things,” he said. “In the last three years, I am the only journalist whose writings became the truth.”
The other surviving major daily papers are widely seen as beginning to pull their punches under immense pressure, including Milliyet and also Hurriyet, the country’s most distinguished daily. The government hit that newspaper with a huge tax fine in 2009, and Hurriyet has paid hundreds of millions of dollars toward it since then.
In an email, Hurriyet’s editor in chief, Sedat Ergin, insisted that the paper has maintained its editorial integrity. “Hurriyet will continue to honor its commitment to independent journalism despite all the hardships this might entail,” he said.
Mr. Kucuk, meanwhile, is reveling in the influence that he suggests his closeness to the president offers him.
“In the media now, it’s me and some of my friends like me, we managed to prevail over them,” Mr. Kucuk added. “For example, now I have the power to make Hurriyet do what I want it to do. Now, we are ruling the country, we are ruling the people.”
For his part, Mr. Ergin, the Hurriyet editor, called Mr. Kucuk’s claim “totally nonsense.”
*This article originally appeared at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/world/europe/turkey-press-erdogan-coup.html?smid=tw-nytimesworld&smtyp=cur