Turkish judiciary used to bully journalists - report

The Turkish judiciary is being used to intimidate and silence journalists, but there are still initiatives and citizens willing to put themselves on the line and work toward a free media, London-based journalist Tim Dawson wrote for the International Federation of Journalists.

Dawson travelled to Turkey as an international observer in cases against media workers facing a range of charges including that of insulting the president.

Journalists facing these charges are kept in limbo since the judicial system allows prosecutors to extend the cases against them for years, Dawson said.

In the case he observed against Eren Keskin, a human rights campaigner who was charged with insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for participating in a campaign supporting a now closed pro-Kurdish newspaper, a hearing was postponed at the last minute because the prosecutor took a holiday.

“These changes have been hanging over us like the sword of Damocles for more than three years. You are responsible for nothing less than judicial bullying,” Keskin told the judge. 

Turkey’s government promised to review the legal system and address the treatment of defendants when it announced a judicial reform package this year.

But Dawson quoted Kadri Gürsel, a well-known Turkish journalist facing charges for allegedly supporting an outlawed Kurdish militant group, as saying the reforms are little more than window dressing aimed at placating foreign governments.

“The judiciary is being used to muzzle the free media. The government has undermined the freedom of the judiciary and is now using that to undermine freedom of expression,” Gürsel said.

With Turkey’s main media outlets almost entirely owned by businesses that support Erdoğan’s government, it is not only judicial pressure that chokes the country’s free press.

Dawson quoted a former journalist at Hürriyet, one of Turkey’s highest circulation newspapers, as saying staff were forced to self-censor to avoid reprisals from the newspaper’s owners.

“We were not allowed to write critical articles about companies in which the papers multi-industrial holding company had interests, or in which any of the bosses, or their friends, had shares,” Ayşe Bana Tuna told Dawson. “The safest policy was simply not to write critical articles at all, because you never knew where their interests lay.” 

Despite the pressure, there is still a wealth of young people determined to take up the profession and there are foundations helping train them to do so.

“Most of the 16 to 25-year-olds who come here have never read a paper. We are teaching them to create the kind of stories that can be shared at the touch of a button and consumed on a phone,” Dawson quoted Orhan Sener, the director of the Turkey Journalists’ Syndicate, as saying.

The syndicate’s general secretary, Mustafa Kuleli, said he was optimistic about the new generation of journalists, who he said had matured during a period of democratic anti-government demonstrations and said shared the ideals of the Paris 1968 protesters.