Meet the world’s worst jailer of journalists

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is bent on silencing all critical, opposition and independent voices in Turkey, writes Abdullah Bozkurt.

This week’s detention warrants and home raids targeting the managers and editors of the centre-left daily Cumhuriyet, which came on the heels of arbitrary closure of about a dozen Kurdish media outlets in Turkey, are all part of the same play-book.

It’s being systematically employed by the country’s oppressive regime, led by its autocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is bent on silencing all critical opposition and independent voices in the diverse nation of 80 million.

It all sounded quite familiar to me because I had seen how this government abused the criminal justice system with trumped-up charges levelled against my news-paper, Zaman, back in 2014. They seized and transformed it into a government mouthpiece overnight, and eventually shut it down alto-gether when readers dropped the subscription.

Zaman was the largest national daily, boasting almost 1.2 million copies sold on a daily basis when Erdogan came after the newspaper. Others, one by one, have fallen prey to this dictator, whose thirst for power seems impossible to quench.

The freedom of press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called Erdogan a “predator of press freedom” in its report issued this week, listing the number of arrested journalists at about 200.

The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ/EFJ) condemned the new wave of media repression by Turkish authorities, describing Turkey now as “the world’s biggest jail for journalists”.

The International Press Institute (IPI) also joined the growing chorus by mobilising 14 leading international press freedom organisations to issue a call on the Turkish president to release all jailed journalists.

This pattern of downward spiral has been going on since the corruption investigations that were exposed in December 2013 that incriminated Erdogan, his family members, business and political associates.

Since then, the Turkish president has been frantically seeking to muzzle every critical voice, including a 140-character message at microblogging social media site Twitter (almost 50 percent of removal requests to Twitter come from Turkey alone).

He must have been terrified that the false narrative he has built to sustain his authoritarian regime can collapse any moment when exposed to the truth and challenged by the facts. Otherwise, why bother going after Cumhuriyet, a small daily with only about 50 000 readers, when he enjoys nearly complete control of Turkish media today.

Another reason why Erdogan cannot tolerate a free press is his long-held ambition of transforming Turkey from parliamentary democracy based on the rule of law, separation of powers and pluralism into a fascist state built around a cult of his personality and rooted in misguided religious zealotry.

His public comments and remarks slamming and bashing Turkey’s allies and partners all the time, his irredentist approach by invading Syrian territory, threatening sovereignty of Iraq by deploying Turkish troops there, and now openly questioning borders with Greece all suggest that this 21st century version of a Hitler-wannabe will not shy away from stirring clashes in Turkey’s neighbourhood.

He needs a completely subordinate media to be able to convince Turks that all this revisionist stand is for the good of the people of Turkey, and for the benefit of all Muslims in the world.

If not checked, this path will lead to an unstable Turkey in an already turbulent region. This meddlesome policy spilled over to other countries when a massive witch-hunt that Erdogan had unleashed upon critics and opponents, especially members of civic group the Gulen movement, landed more than 30 000 people in jail on farcical charges and dismissed well over 100 000 employees from government jobs.

Many Turks and Kurds are now forced to live in self-exile in search of rebuilding a decent life, free and safe from Erdogan’s iron-grip reach. Yet they are troubled by a relentless pursuit of Erdogan’s notorious spies and operatives, be it disguised under the title of diplomat or undercover as investors and businesspeople, who are threatening to disrupt the lives of Turkish immigrants and asylum-seekers abroad.

Erdogan has turned what started out as a well-intended initiative of past governments in Turkey in improving relations with African countries into a power-harvesting search on the back of African nations.

By simply throwing money around, he thinks he can secure the allegiance of the proud nations of this continent and have them toe the line with his obscure vision.

This is nothing but a charade as the recent leaks from e-mail messages of his-son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, revealed that the Erdogan family is rather interested in copper, uranium and gold prospects in Somalia.

A report written by Serdar Çam, the head of Turkey’s development agency Tika, on August 15, 2011 (when Turkey first showed an interest in Somalia) detailed gold prospects.

Çam, who now runs 11 offices across Africa, sent the report to Erdogan’s advisers, who shared the confidential note with family members, including son Bilal and daughters Sümeyye and Esra.

It has been long overdue to confront this xenophobic regime in Turkey, curb Erdogan’s appetite, and check his government actions that persecuted not only journalists, but also human rights defenders, members of the judiciary, teachers, NGO workers, union members, and even housewives because they are married to critics.

There is no longer a rule of law in Turkey where due process, a fair trial, has been lost to arbitrariness and pervasive torture. According to a report issued on October 20 by Washington-based think tank the World Justice Project, Turkey is ranked at 99th place in terms of the rule of law out of 113 countries that were surveyed.

Widespread torture claims in prisons and detention centres are documented and reported by Amnesty International, Turkish NGOs and whistle-blowers.

The engagement with Turkey seems rather a futile attempt as seen from the approach taken by Turkey’s partners and allies in the last few years. It sounds great when someone says the engagement is the only way to elicit a change in the behaviour of the Turkish government.

That path has been tried time and again and proved to be ineffective.

In the meantime, Turkey has gone from bad to worse since the engagement has turned into an appeasement policy which in fact is nothing but an implicit approval of what Erdogan does.

The free world must stand up against this autocrat and tell him he cannot continue on this destructive path.

The regime representatives who claim there are no journalists in Turkish jails must be challenged and confronted, in regional and international organisations, so that their initiatives to bring legitimacy to the witch-hunt and persecution are thwarted.

The public relations campaign by the regime propagandists and apologists abroad must come to a halt and there must be a crackdown on their front networks and the funding they get.

The message will be brought across only when concrete actions are taken against the intrusive and oppressive regime of President Erdogan in Turkey.

Source: IOL

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