January 4, 2015

Being crushed under baggage: Shortness of breath

Ekrem Dumanlı

We are facing a great danger. Some people who do not want to hear any critical remarks have established a regime of repression. A 16-year-old was sent to jail; a journalist who posted a tweet about the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption investigation was placed in detention; a TV station and a newspaper were raided; the police staged an operation in the buildings of some political parties because they put up a critical banner; the supporters of a soccer club are being accused of attempting to stage a coup; the “reasonable doubt” criterion for arrest is applied to almost everybody; and the country is now a semi-closed penitentiary.

Unfortunately, some of those who are under this threat are not aware of the gravity of the problem. There is almost no freedom of expression and this critical situation affects all social groups. The country is moving fast towards a single-man regime by the elimination of all democratic institutions and agencies. Those who hold power view even the most fundamental freedoms as something they grant to the people. But those who ignore what is going on are not aware that the fundamental rights and freedoms are being gradually destroyed.

Why? There are a lot of reasons. And it is possible to list many excuses. Some are afraid; some others hold some expectations; as a result, they prefer to remain silent. Well, this is fine. History is recording every move. Forgetting about the past is not sufficient to ignore the fact that this is a temporary situation. One should forget about oneself too to avoid the voice of one's conscience.

Our media carries huge baggage; some media actors, being motivated by their own ideological identity, focus on who is being affected rather than what is being done. In other words, even if what happens is oppression, they pay attention to who is being subjected to this oppression to determine their position. This mentality suggests that some deserve oppression and some do not. If you are not on the same side, the oppression others are subjected to can be ignored, but when this happens, the oppressors attain their goals and expand the sphere of their oppression.

There is no room for “buts” in a democratic and pro-freedom stance. Objections raised with reservations cannot successfully oppose oppression. Unfortunately, the Turkish media relies on “buts” to justify its reluctance to address the ongoing oppression. And in fact, by doing so, it is committing suicide because oppression is a state of extremism and nobody can predict where it will stop. Oppression that starts by dealing with relatively minor “enemies” eventually affects everyone unless proper measures are taken.

Turkey is now having difficulty breathing because the atmosphere is polluted. For this reason, people are experiencing shortness of breath. The rulers in this country make the lives of their opponents miserable. We experience insults, humiliation and repression on a daily basis. If you support the government, then you are fine. But if you have some minor disagreements, you are just doomed. And if you have totally different views, things are even worse for you. The government sends its tax inspectors to your workplace very frequently; groundless accusations are made against you; you are insulted; the police may stage a raid against you; and your potential destination is the courtroom. And in such a grave situation, some people make interesting remarks suggesting that the sphere of liberties the government identifies should be enough for all.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere is polluted. Many lies are being told. A huge number of trolls are active on social media to promote the government's agenda. Some so-called journalists make threats based on the information they are given by the intelligence community. In an atmosphere where shortness of breath is the default, some people, relying on the old considerations in their baggage, offer excuses. Well, it is up to them; but I have to say that things are very bad and that this is no time to make excuses. It is not possible to make progress in a broken car. Today, it is time to cooperate for the sake of freedom. Everybody should join this alliance so that this country is able to overcome the huge problems ahead.

This is the real conspiracy and plot

The investigations carried out since Dec. 17 can be characterized by two elements: First, all evidence and documents proving corruption in the Dec. 17 investigation were destroyed or shelved; and secondly, new legal cases were filed to ensure that the Hizmet movement is presented as a culprit out of sentiments of revenge and to ensure that the gravest corruption scandal in the history of Turkey is forgotten.

The system is based on an old method that was used in the darkest periods of Turkey: First, groundless reports are published, and then prosecutors are urged to take legal action based on these reports. The whole matter is taken to judicial bodies and the same media makes slanderous reports using the judicial process.

Those who are unable to find any evidence against the Hizmet movement by pointing to criminal activity now rely on legal cases based on groundless media reports by pro-government papers. As if they are not the hostages and administers of such a system, they find some so-called victims by reliance on past reports covering their activities. Basically, this system is based on perjury, slanders and fake informants.

The investigation that involves Hidayet Karaca and me reveals how this dark and illegal system is operated. The charges raised by those who back an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization based on a few reports and columns as well as a TV show from five years ago reveal a grave situation. The argument also claims that the al-Qaeda-affiliated group was victimized by these columns and reports. Does this mentality, seeking to create a terror organization out of those publications which have no flaw in terms of journalism and broadcasting, think that the current slanderous journalism will not be held accountable in the future?

The pro-government media stages plots on a daily basis. The police and the prosecutors take action based on what the pro-government media publishes. If those fabricated reports were objective and made according to the principles of journalism, if the right of reply was respected and if they relied on concrete information and evidence, of course, the action by the prosecutors could be justified. But this is not the case at all. This means that the police officers and law enforcement officers who initiate legal processes based on those lies and reports fabricated by the pro-government media are committing felonies. When this country goes back to normal, this whole scam will be eventually brought to justice. I do not know what the representatives of the media will do then, but the state officials who are supposed to preserve the legal rules and the principle of the rule of law should bow to justice so that they can embrace the future.

Foreign media

The operations against the Zaman daily and Samanyolu TV on Dec. 14, 2014 created such an outlook: The Turkish media prefers remaining silent in the face of the coup against media freedom for understandable reasons (!). This was the initial reaction at the time the operation was held. However, the world media reacted strongly and decisively. A number of TV channels, newspapers, Internet sites and news agencies took action to inform their audience, viewers and readers about the oppressive measures by the state against the media in Turkey. And they are still informing people on this matter. On the morning of the operation, I underlined that this operation would become a source of disgrace for Turkey. Well, once mind and reason is taken hostage by sentiments of revenge and rage, disgrace becomes inevitable.

I receive requests from the most renowned newspapers and TV channels in the world for interviews or opinion pieces. What we have here is a professional solidarity involving colleagues and media actors from different parts of the world, including the Middle East, the Far East, Europe and the US. This is pretty impressive. And I try to respond to every request for an interview. Some criticize this. They argue that I am complaining about Turkey abroad. I feel I should remind those who think like this that Turkey will remain in this trap due to a lack of vision of a few things. First, in the current modern world, there is no distinction between domestic and international affairs. The world reacts negatively if you hold a raid against media institutions in this age of communication. Second, we write the same things in this country and elsewhere. Our greatest demand is the removal of the concerns over the policies and actions violating freedoms and rights. Third, the world shows solidarity over media freedom without recourse to any excuses or relying on any prejudices. Instead of criticizing this, we need to question ourselves over our possible mistakes. Fourth, do we not respond to media institutions in Turkey asking our views on what happened? Has anybody ever asked us to explain what happened, only for us to respond that we would speak to our international colleagues?

I have a final reminder for those who are not aware that there is no longer any distinction between domestic and international media. Nobody can shut the country out from the outside world and try to govern it by turning it into a prison. And if anybody attempts to do so, nobody in the world will believe this auto-hypnosis. Those who violate universal legal principles will turn themselves into a disgrace both at home and in the world. And that would be a shame for the country. If you do not want to experience such shame, you need to pay attention to the rule of law, human rights and pluralist and participatory democracy, not corruption, illegality and oppression.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 04 January 2015, Sunday