By TLB International Contributor: Ceylan Ozbudak.
There is a direct link between freedom of press and a vibrant democracy. Rather than having the government or a select elite establish and dictate the truth, we can all choose from a marketplace of ideas. However, our sensitivity in protecting the freedom of press should not overshadow the crimes of those hiding behind it nor offer shelter for hostile elements.
Turkey has been criticized intensely for “jailing journalists” by the international community over the last few years. After the last releases of KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union, which is an affiliate of PKK) detainees, as of April 18, 2014, the total number of journalists in prison in Turkey is 15 compared to 49 in 2012, seven of whom have been convicted and sentenced, and eight of whom are under custody while being tried. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an American nonprofit organization known to promote press freedom throughout the world, has consistently claimed these journalists were imprisoned for expressing views opposing the government. As I have explained before, almost all of those imprisoned were detained on a number of criminal charges, most importantly for being part of a terrorist organization; that they were journalists is irrelevant to their imprisonment.
Who are the jailed journalists in Turkey?
Here’s a list of the jailed so-called journalists in Turkey:
• Being engaged in activities in the name of the Leninist Communist illegal terrorist organization(MLKP/MK), and keeping firearms at the cell house where she lived.
• Being a member of the DHKP-C, a terrorist organization which is known to have carried a number of assassinations and suicide bombings aimed at police forces, civilians and the U.S. Embassy in Turkey.
• Working as the regional manager of KCK, which is the urban group of the PKK terrorist organization;
• Being a member of the PKK terrorist organization,
• Threatening citizens during the referendum process to prevent them from voting;
• Being a member of the PKK terrorist organization, TKPML-TİKKO, a Maoist guerrilla organization.
• Being a member of the PKK;
• Working to provide new recruits for the armed mountain division of the PKK terrorist organization.
• Aiding the PKK terrorist organization;
• Hiding an individual to elude tracking by security forces.
• Threatening and kidnapping a contractor with a weapon, bringing the so-called contractor to a cell house and abducting him;
• Using a forged police identity card.
• Threatening and kidnapping a contractor with a weapon;
• Using a forged police identity card.
• Possession of Molotov cocktails and firearms and using them against police forces.
These crimes, among others which have also been listed for each journalist, cannot be considered as mere political dissent. These individuals were not arrested simply because they criticized government officials in the media. The fact that they were also critical of the government cannot be used to dismiss the evidence against them. Any individual who bombs a helicopter or is in possession of forged identity cards would be arrested in any European country or in the United States, regardless of their occupation or gender. Therefore, the CPJ is discrediting its own work, which is mostly quite useful, by defending these individuals in the name of press freedom.
Is the press free enough in Turkey?
On the other hand, we cannot say freedom of the press is at its utmost in Turkey. Aside from the “jailed journalists” issue, one should keep in mind that jailing dissenters is not the only method of persecution. A majority of those dissenting journalists have fears concerning their future in the industry. This is not because of the government exerting pressure on them to be expelled but rather some over-zealous supporters of the AK Party, who often resort to campaigns of discrediting dissenters.
Turkey will be an oasis of freedom of thought only when the government starts protecting and valuing the voice of the opposition and takes them under consideration for the sake of a stronger democracy. Even though the only solid steps towards a democracy on par with EU standards were taken in the AK Party era, we can safely say that the commitment to democratic norms in society itself is only skin deep. For a solid democratic model to emerge, the government should work together with the civil society organizations that monitor such affairs and lobby for political pluralism in order to bring forth a society which is committed to all the principles of democracy – majority rule and minority rights, individual freedoms, human rights, a free press, the rule of law and equality for all ideologies.
Many of the political forces on both the left and right still appear more “liberal” (open -minded about social and economic issues) than democratic (committed to the right of all political forces to be included in the political process). Because of the monopoly of ultra-secular media in Turkey in the pre-AK Party period, and their lack of commitment to pluralism or peaceful alternation of power, the majority of society and the newly emerging right-wing press is over-sensitive about criticism towards the government. Therefore we need the AK Party government to be more open to criticism, as passionate about enhancing the political and cultural diversity of Turkey as it is about advancing its own position.
Turkey has come a long way over the last decade from suppressing political parties through the use of the military to being a country, which is committed to liberal norms of democracy. Now is the time for Turkey to step up its game in democracy by providing more freedoms to its press and citizens and showcasing a model for tolerance by embracing even the staunchest opposition.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, TLB International Contributor, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. Connect with Ceylan Özbudak on Google+
TLB recommends you visit Ceylan at her blog for more pertinent articles and information.
See featured article here: http://www.ceylanozbudak.net/demystifying-turkeys-jailed-journalists-debate/