George Orwell wrote freedom of the press “means the freedom to criticize and oppose.” Unfortunately in Turkey, the space to oppose and criticize is shrinking by the minute. Already in very poor health, media freedom plunged to an all-time disgraceful low this week following a police operation ordered by the authorities to arrest dozens of journalists on what are clearly sham charges.
The warrants issued for Zaman's editor-in-chief, Ekrem Dumanlı, other well-known columnists from the paper, as well as members of the Samanyolu TV channel are clearly a fresh blow to press freedom in Turkey, although the pro-government media is trying really hard to spin this into something else. According to Sabah daily columnist Mahmut Övür, the “bottom line is that the rule of law in Turkey cannot be instituted unless the country brings operatives of the Gülen movement, who exploited the nation's eagerness to come to terms with military coups for their own gain and created a state of fear by eavesdropping on a number of people, including the president and the prime minister.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, has described the police operation as a matter of “national security” and the ongoing situation as a "normalizing process," saying what the country recently saw is the beginning of the "new Turkey." There is certainly nothing normal about this process and the so-called new Turkey is not new at all; it is simply a worse version of the old, old Turkey.
This is not an issue of national security and while Erdoğan's colleagues in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) just toe his line and he is able to pull the wool over the eyes of his loyal constituents, he cannot pull it over the eyes of the rest of us, including Turkey's Euro-Atlantic allies. What we are witnessing is a dirty revenge campaign. My colleagues at Zaman have taken no actions that warrant their arrest or could possibly be described as “threatening Turkey's national security.”
Unfortunately, the government appears to be hell-bent on destroying its former allies in the Hizmet group, conveniently forgetting how they worked together in the past. Even during the days when the military was a force to be reckoned with, things were not this bad. At least the military was more than one person. This is the action plan of one man.
Criticism has come hard and fast from both within and outside of Turkey. Erdoğan as usual has responded to them with defiance. He has slammed the EU, telling it to mind its own business, stating the “EU cannot interfere in steps taken … within the rule of law against elements that threaten our national security.”
The actions of the authorities go against the European values and standards that Turkey is always stating it meets or wants to meet. New EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini responded by saying she was surprised by Erdoğan's comments given that she had met him only a few days ago in Turkey to discuss EU-Turkey cooperation relations where a number of representatives from the government had told her “Turkish efforts to join the EU were not so much about economic interests but about the values of democracy and the rule of law.” Mogherini was not the only EU personality who was in the country last week. The prime ministers of the UK and Italy were there as well and were told very much the same thing.
So here is the thing: Turkey's leadership is not committed to democratic values. Over the last year fundamental rights and freedoms have been eroded. The rule of law in its full meaning has become a thing of the past because these days the rule of law is used in a very arbitrary manner. What Turkey has become is a one-man show: One man gives an instruction which is carried out by one of his many minions.
This latest development has left Turkey's already tarnished image in tatters and we are not at the end of the road yet as these raids and arrests are set to continue. However, what is left of the free media will not be silenced and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my colleagues at Zaman and other media outlets in this battle against an increasingly undemocratic and authoritarian style of governance.
Published on Today's Zaman, 16 December 2014, Tuesday