Turkey Sham Show Trial Threatens Press Freedoms

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

August 2, 2017

With 178 journalists behind bars, Turkey has become the world’s major jailer of journalists. Under the guise of national security (akin to its crackdowns on the internet), the nation is attempting to stifle free speech in an attempt to quell dissent a year after a failed coup against the government of Recep Tayip Erdogan. Since the failed attempt, the Turkish government has been rounding up and imprisoning government employees that it feels were complicit in the coup, firing and/or imprisoning tens of thousands of civil servants.

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At this time, 17 reporters, correspondents, lawyers, and executives from Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest newspaper, are in the dock on charges of aiding and abetting terrorist organisations. One of the 17, Kadri Gürsel, has been especially critical of the Erdogan regime on the eve of the trial, accusing the government of manufacturing flimsy charges. He urged the presiding judge to drop the charges and said that the trial was further proof of the lengths to which a fascist regime would go to silence legitimate criticism:

“I am here because I am an independent, questioning and critical journalist, not because I knowingly and willingly helped a terrorist organisation. Because I have not compromised in my journalism and I am persistent until the end. All these accusations directed to me are devoid of wisdom and reason, and are beyond the scope of any law or conscience.” 

Many events in addition to these trials have irked freedom-loving citizens and free speech advocates. Since last year’s attempted coup, the government has unleashed a concerted crackdown on the media in general. Those who don’t comply with the government’s whims feel its wrath, in the form of it pressuring advertisers to avoid those media outlets (according to opposition journalists).

The newspaper, Cumhuriyet, has been a particular thorn in the side of the Erdogan regime and thus a specific target of its ire. It enraged Erdogan’s ruling party back in 2014 when it published details that embarrassed the government. It disclosed that the government secretly sold arms to the Syrian rebels under the guise of humanitarian aid. Back then, the government accused the news outlet of Gulenist leanings, referring to dissident Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Turk who lives in America and is widely blamed by the Erdogan government for orchestrating last July’s coup.

As if to add irony to the sham proceedings, the start of the trial coincides with Turkey’s National Press Festival. The event celebrates the Ottoman rulers have declared a constitutional monarchy, along with the abolition of censorship in 1908.

Turkey’s government crackdown against the press has outraged many in the media around the world. A statement from a journalists syndicate underscored the point:

“The indictment charges them for aiding and abetting terrorist organisations, but what did they do in reality? Nothing but news. The word ‘news’ appears 667 times in the indictment … A newspaper as old as the republic is being accused of supporting terrorism only based on the fact that its employees made news.”

It is precisely this point that the aforementioned journalist Gürsel made in identifying government bias and its fascist makeup in bringing the charges. He said that the charges, in mentioning that the journalists report news, is proof enough of their innocence and of the government’s trumped up charges.

Equally alarming is the fact that the journalists have been imprisoned for nine months without bail prior to the commencement of proceedings. After hearing initial statements and testimony, the judge is expected to rule on whether to release them on bail while the case continues. It will soon become apparent whether the defendants will get a fair hearing or wether this is merely a kangaroo court assembled to render a predetermined judgment.

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It certainly looks like just another step by the Turkish government to control public opinion by crushing criticism – whether in digital, electronic, or print media.

Image Credit: Azat Valeev/

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