As the government has stepped up its crackdown on its critics by raiding news outlets and arresting foreign journalists, The Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu voiced a sentiment that has become all too common these days.
“Don’t disgrace Turkey in the eyes of the world,” he said.
Turkey’s reputation is already blemished.
Intimidating acts against the media and anyone daring to criticise the AKP rule have become so widespread that barely a day goes by without Turkey being invited to respect the rule of the law and basic freedoms.
Now, its image as an emerging economic power is beginning to fade. Speaking to the Reuters News Agency, Jonathan Friedman, a Turkey analyst at London-based risk consultancy Stroz Friedberg, was quoted as saying that Ankara’s domestic turmoil had taken a severe toll on its international standing.
“Turkey’s soft power has declined so rapidly over the last two years. Turkey doesn’t have the same credibility on the G20 stage as it would have had a couple of years back,” he said.
The day after two British journalists and their interpreter working for VICE News were arrested in south-eastern Turkey and charged with aiding a terrorist organization, and on the day the Turkish police raided the offices of a conglomerate, Koza İpek and its media outlets, criticism again poured down on Turkey.
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks expressed concern and asked the Turkish authorities “to take resolute steps to ensure greater freedom of the media.”
US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner, “as Turkey’s friend and NATO ally”, urged Turkish authorities to “ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values, including due process, freedom of expression as well as access to media and information”.
Dutch politician and Member of the European Parliament, Marietje Schaake submitted 3 written questions to the European Commission concerning press freedom in Turkey. She wanted to know how the role of foreign and Turkish media will be safeguarded during the coming elections and what consequences the Commission attached to the crackdown on press freedom specifically, and on fundamental freedoms generally, in Turkey.
In Britain, PEN International, English PEN and Index on Censorship sent a letter to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond urging him to speak out publicly against the arrests of the three foreign journalists on what they called to be “baseless charges”.
William Horsley, Media Freedom Representative and Vice-President of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) described the police raids on critical media outlets in Turkey as “an attempt by those in high political authority to misuse the powers of the state for their own advantage only weeks before a general election” and he said “these abuses, and all attempts to silence media outlets by official threats and the misuse of anti-terrorism or other laws, must stop immediately.”
Use of the Financial Crime Investigation Board to crackdown on media organisations, as witnessed in the latest raid against the Koza İpek group of companies and media outlets, for allegedly “giving financial support to the Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) and conducting its propaganda” were condemned by International Press Institute (IPI).
With a serious escalation of violence in the south-east and the snap elections scheduled for November 1st, silencing the domestic media is clearly no longer enough. For journalists, in order to survive, being unquestioningly loyal has become a requisite.
Sympathetic as the outside world may be, at the end of the day, it is up to Turkey’s politicians, journalists and civil society to stop this downward spiral toward dictatorship.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party CHP’s decision to bring together four of its deputies in a commission to examine political pressure on the media was a significant step forward.
Commision members Utku Çakırözer, Enis Berberoğlu,Barış Yarkadaş and Eren Erdem are all respected former journalists.
They visited the raided offices of the Bugün newspaper as well as other outspoken dailies Cumhuriyet and Sözcü on September 1. They will talk to other media outlets under pressure from the government in their fact-finding mission.
Answering my questions by telephone from Istanbul, the Eskisehir deputy Utku Çakırözer said that the Commission wanted to find out to what extent political and financial intimidation and censorship influenced freedom of information.
In coming days, they will get together with various professional bodies and rights groups for journalists in order to stand in solidarity and to encourage unanimity.
Utku Çakırözer is concerned about the very serious chilling effect the latest crackdown on the Ipek Group had on the rest of the media.
“If, as speculated, these pressures extend to other critical media in the run up to the general election, Turkey’s democratic credentials and fairness of its elections will be called into question” he said.
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