After a faction within the Turkish military attempted a coup on July 15th, President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the closure of 131 media outlets.
Erdogan claims the organizations were spreading the sentiments of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in the US who has been accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating the coup. National news agencies and regional publications alike were closed through this executive action.
This widespread purge of educational institutions, media, and military forces comes just after Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency in late July. Erdogan has suspended Turkey’s adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR, during this state of emergency.
“I want to guarantee that fundamental rights and freedoms and normal daily life will not be affected by this,” said Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus when discussing the suspension of the ECHR to the Hurriyet Daily News. “Our citizens should feel comfortable about this.”
Photos Courtesy of Nathalie Bertams/crossingborders.info
Some journalists in Istanbul have fled in response to the crackdown. Tunca Öğreten, editor of the online publication Diken, left Istanbul “just in case of being arrested,” he told MediaFile.
Öğreten is no stranger to press freedom restrictions in Turkey. He’s been on trial three times for charges including “insulting the President,” a common transgression pinned to journalists that write something unsavory about Erdogan.
But Öğreten thinks this crackdown is different.
“Actually, I don’t feel safe here,” he said. “Other hundreds of journalist don’t as well.”
Öğreten, like many other journalists, fled Istanbul in late July. Some journalists fled the country entirely, while others moved to a more secular region in southern Turkey. Öğreten got away from Istanbul, but willingly returned to face interrogation.
And he is back to work, as well.
“I’m going to stay here, write what I see, and resist,” he said. “Running away is not a solution for us. I don’t wanna leave for this guy that’s in office. This is my country.”
Öğreten further elaborated on the Turkey’s press situation, saying that interrogations, detainments and jailings of individual journalists have drastically increased.
“Erdogan is taking this opportunity to press all other journalists that are opposed to him. There’s been really hard pressure on us since July 15. I don’t know the exact number, but I know that more than 15 have been jailed, and more 60-70 detained.”
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon stressed the need for due process and the protection of free speech in the post-coup era, and stated he “trusts that the government and people of Turkey will transform this moment of uncertainty into a moment of unity, preserving Turkey’s democracy,” according to his spokesperson.
Out of the 131 outlets that have been shut down by the government, three are news agencies, 16 are TV stations, 23 are radio stations, 45 are papers, and 29 are publishers. Ogreten says that small, local papers have been hit the hardest.
“More than 20 daily papers were shut down right after coup,” said Öğreten. “There are only about four or five opposition papers and sites in Turkey right now, the rest of them belong to Erdogan. This is unbelievable. 80 million people live in Turkey, but only four or five outlets are writing the truth.”
Nathalie Bertrams, a german photojournalist living and working in Turkey, says that while she has not been hit as hard as native Turkish journalists, the press crackdown has changed reporting methods of foreign outlets operating in Turkey.
“As foreigners, we are in a situation of self-censorship. It is not wise to do stories about people who are speaking their mind, of government criticism,” said Bertrams in an interview with MediaFile. “Friends of mine have changed names in articles, or feature no pictures of those who are speaking out against the government – everyone is apprehensive about these things. The self-censorship comes very slowly, like a poison.”
In his experiences dealing with press censorship, Öğreten says that the preservation of a few opposition outlets, despite the crackdown, has been successful primarily through the readership in Turkey.
“The government has realized that jailing journos and pushing publications is not a solution that is effective. They still kept doing jobs,” he said. “Many of the opposition papers have too big of a following. Diken gets a million hits a day. If Diken shut down, a million people would ask the government ‘What are you doing?’”
The possibility of getting kicked out of Turkey looms for foreign journalists like Bertrams. But, she knows, her work could continue elsewhere.
“If I get kicked out of the country, I have another country to go to,” she said. “It would be terrible, but it would not be destroying my life. It’s definitely a threat hanging over people.”
In the day before his interrogation, Öğreten was uncertain of his future. His uncertainty is not unique, unfortunately. Scores of other journalists have been questioned, detained, jailed or are fleeing Erdogan’s government.
“I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “They may detain me for hours, days, or I could go to jail. There’s no low at the moment. The only low is Erdogan’s word.”
In the days following his interrogation, Öğreten is still active on Twitter and promises to keep in touch with the author of this report. “Still state of emergency. Hundreds of journalists were arrested. And they keep arresting,” he texted.
This post has been updated to remove profanity from an interview.