Turkey's Stalinist prosecution of journalists for tweets, blogs

This editorial appeared in the Washington Post.

These are dark days for journalists in Turkey, now the leader among governments that imprison news-gatherers. In one week alone, nearly 70 journalists were on trial on false accusations of supporting terrorism. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic alliance, and not all that long ago a boisterous democracy, has fallen into the grip of dictatorship.

Consider the case of Oguz Guven, the online editor in chief of the daily Cumhuriyet, an independent newspaper targeted by Erdogan. In February 2016, The Post published a lighthearted blog post comparing the faces of world leaders to types of dogs they resemble. The canine choices were made by a new Microsoft app, "Fetch." Erdogan apparently did not find it amusing that he was deemed to look like a basset hound. Other choices were similarly funny and insulting: Russian President Vladimir Putin was compared to a Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The result is not at all lighthearted. Twenty-two months after the offending post, Guven has been accused of "insulting the president," a crime in Turkey, and an Ankara court will take up the case in the spring. Guven is already in hot water on another frivolous charge. When a prosecutor in the southwestern province of Denizli was killed in a road accident over the summer, Guven retweeted someone's snarky remark that the prosecutor had been "mowed down." Guven immediately realized the words were inappropriate and in 52 seconds deleted the retweet. Not soon enough. On Nov. 21, an Istanbul court sentenced him to three years and one month in prison on two separate terrorism charges.

This is just one among many distressing examples; many civil servants and academics face the same dreaded punishment. The nearly 70 journalists who were in court in separate trials in that one week faced baseless charges of supporting terrorism or attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Of special concern is the case of Fevzi Yazici, the former art director of the newspaper Zaman, who has been in pretrial detention for 17 months and recently moved to solitary confinement. Police have reportedly pressured the journalist to confess to carrying out orders from the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania. Once an Erdogan ally, Gulen is now blamed for a coup attempt; he denies involvement.

Erdogan's paranoia and Stalinist tactics are running riot. The losers will be the Turkish people.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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