So much for the world wide attention for press freedom in Turkey. The two most famous Turkish journalists in jail, Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, were set free on Monday night, pending trial. Joy all over the place and I’m happy for them too; but in a way it also makes me hopeless. Before these two men with well known, influential colleagues and friends were jailed, there was no attention whatsoever paid to the dozens of other jailed journalists. I see no reason why Turkey won’t be going back to that situation.
Şık and Şener were arrested 375 days ago, as part of the ongoing Ergenekon investigation. They were accused of being the ‘media wing’ of the Ergenekon network, which supposedly wanted to overthrow the AKP government. Everybody in their right mind knew instantly that this accusation was crap. Both investigative journalists were actually revealing plots and networks within the state, and doing so bravely. Even if Şık and Şener were supporting coups with their pens, which they were not, they should not be in jail for that. Coups are staged with tanks and weapons, not with pens – the pen should be free.
Something similar is going on with the majority of the journalists who are in jail in Turkey. Kurds. They are jailed for things like ‘having ties with a terrorist organization’ or ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organization’. You can find them in this list, working for papers Özgür Gündem and Azadiya Welat and news agency DIHA. If as a journalist writing about the Kurdish question for a Kurdish (or Turkish) paper you have no ties with a ‘terrorist organisation’, you are not doing your job very properly, I’d say. You can never be jailed for the contacts you have as a journalist, or for making heard the voices of people who have no chance of having their voices heard any other way. In fact, on the contrary: that’s the kind of journalism that should win awards.
But this general understanding of what press freedom really means doesn’t exist in Turkey. Not within the government, but also not among many journalists. At least, they don’t act like it. Before Şık and Şener were arrested, hardly anybody bothered about the Kurdish journalists rotting away in jail for years, often without being convicted. Şık and Şener have made it to the front pages and op-eds time and time again, but their Kurdish colleagues? They have no well-known friends in the media, they are not writing about topics that excited the average Turkish journalist, they are, in short, not part of any inner circle that matters in Turkey.
And still nobody really cares. The Kurdish journalists in jail are mentioned between in a by-line, but they are anonymous. Every court hearing of Şık and Şener got a whole lot of attention, with journalists tweeting from court like crazy and all papers reporting it, but who went to Diyarbakir courthouse to tweet, to video, to write? And who will be going to Diyarbakir court to report? Which journalists will bring attention to the fate of these dozens of practically anonymous men and women? Which foreign media will write about them tirelessly, as they did about Şık and Şener? Which foreign politician will use any of their names when calling upon the Turkish government to respect human rights? With Şık and Şener being set free, the general attention for press freedom will wain, leaving less perspective for their less famous colleagues.
I want to especially draw attention to Turabi Kişin. He works as an editor for Özgür Gündem in Diyarbakir. I met him last year in November, during a PKK funeral that I attended. Read a blog post, in which he is mentioned, about that here. He was afraid that on that very day he would be arrested. The next day we met again, we talked for some time and I remember him whispering and looking over his shoulder all the time. Then several weeks later, some journalists of his paper in Diyarbakir were arrested. I sent him a message, asking if he was okay. He texted back that, yes, his friends were in custody, that he was not but he soon expected it to be his turn.
When I visited Diyarbakir in January and wanted to meet again, I couldn’t get in touch. After days of trying to call, I paid a visit to his paper. They told me he was arrested some days earlier, in the morning when he was catching a plane in Ankara. He’s number 95 on the list I mentioned before. Now he’s locked up in Kandira, close to Istanbul. He has been in jail before, in the nineties. Try to imagine for a second what happened to Kurdish journalists in jail in the nineties.
Please, everybody, maintain the media attention on all these innocent jailed journalists as intensely as over the last few months, even now that Şık and Şener are finally back home. Please, surprise me.