In anger and with shame

P24 calls for the immediate release of all those now in jail for something that is no crime.

The sight of three of Turkey’s most prominent human rights activists being led from an Istanbul court in handcuffs is a source of both shame and anger. The three are more deserving of medals for public service than irons.

They include Şebnem Korur Fincancı, who heads the prestigious Turkey Human Rights Foundation, Erol Önderoğlu, Turkish representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). They are joined by Ahmet Nesin, a writer who heads the educational foundation named after his late father Aziz Nesin, one of Turkey’s most famous writers for his scathing parodies of bureaucracy gone mad.

All three are being accused of “making terror propaganda” after having acted as “editor for the day” of the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper.  They did so as part of a sustained act of solidarity with the beleaguered publication.

Another 41 writers, journalists and scholars also participated as “day editors” including P24’s own president Hasan Cemal, the Islamic thinker İhsan Eliaçık, Fatih Polat, editor of the leftist Evrenselnewspaper, and Nadire Mater, founder of the independent news agency Bianet. Can Dündar, editor of Cumhuriyet who was sentenced to 5 years and 4 months for revealing state secrets has announced his intention to continue the protest by occupying the editor’s chair this week.

All may now face the prosecutor’s wrath.

Particularly disturbing is that those whom the courts now pursue are demonstrably upholders of Turkish civil society and of basic rights. Prof. Korur Fincancı is an expert in forensic medicine and a legendary warrior in the fight against torture. She was again among the first to investigate what really happened in the southeastern city of Cizre, a city which came under siege by Turkey’s military and in which scores of bodies were recovered. Erol Önderoğlu is a tireless and fair-minded documenter of violations of freedom of expression. The Nesin foundation’s brief is to give educational opportunity to disadvantaged children.  The notion that these people are supporting terror rather than social justice is absurd.

All three are not so much being held accountable for a real crime but being told to mind their own business.

The authorities have long maintained that no one in Turkey goes to prison for their beliefs and that all those who face penal sentence do so for crimes that would be self-evident anywhere in the world.  Yet Özgür Gündem, for all its Kurdish nationalist leanings, is a perfectly legal publication. Acting as head of its editorial board meeting—or indeed any editorial board—is an offence nowhere in the civilised world.

“The detention of two journalists and a human rights activist for expressing solidarity with their colleagues is the latest, and a most severe, blow to freedom of expression and media freedom in Turkey,” said Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE media freedom representative within moments of the court’s decision.

If further proof were needed of the authorities’ ballooning confidence in their own sense of impunity we need look no further than another court order to the dissident Can Erzincan television station either to stop broadcasting of its own accord or to have the plug pulled out for it mid-July.

P24 calls for the immediate release of all those now in jail awaiting trial for something that is no crime.  It does so in the knowledge that the world is more than aware of who the real culprits are.

The article was originally published on Platform 24 (P24) , a SEENPM member organization.

P24_logo_FinalPlatform for Independent Journalism (P24) is a timely initiative to support and promote editorial independence in the Turkish press at the time when the journalistic profession is under fierce commercial and political pressure.

P24 is a not-for-profit, civil society organization which has as its founders several experienced members of the Turkish press.

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