Press Freedom

What is the corrosive effect of jailing journalists in Turkey?

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The Guardian Columnist Roy Greenslade wrote an article on Freedom of Press in Turkey.

Aslı Erdoğan is a prize-winning Turkish writer, a newspaper columnist and human rights activist who has been in jail since August this year.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a Turkish politician who has been responsible for the jailing of 140 journalists and countless human rights activists.

THE IMPRISONED NOVELIST AND THE PRESIDENT OF TURKEY ARE NOT RELATED

As far as I know, the imprisoned novelist and the president of Turkey are not related. Their very different experiences over the past four months are explored in a powerful essay in the New Yorker by Elif Şafak, “The silencing of writers in Turkey”.

She points out that “one of the endless ironies of Turkey” was that the liberals and democrats who opposed the failed July coup aimed at overthrowing Erdoğan’s AKP government were “the first to be punished and silenced by that very same government.”

SHE LIST ASLI ERDOGAN WHO WAS DETAINED FOR BEING A MEMBER OF THE ADVISORY

She lists Aslı Erdoğan, who was detained for being a member of the advisory board of the newspaper Özgür Gündem, as one of her friends and colleagues who have been jailed, exiled and blacklisted.

Erdoğan, who is diabetic, was reported to have suffered in prison because her medicine was withheld. Through her lawyer, she told a paper: “They are treating me in a way that will leave permanent damage to my body.” She has been charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “undermining national unity.”

Şafak, a Turkish writer who lives in London, also mentions others behind bars: linguist Necmiye Alpay, who celebrated her 70th birthday in jail; novelist Ahmet Altan; scholar Mehmet Altan; liberal columnist Şahin Alpay; the editor-in-chief of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper, Murat Sabuncu; and its literary editor, Turhan Günay.

Erdoğan’s AKP, she writes, “has refused to acknowledge that free elections are not enough to sustain a democracy. There are other necessary constituents: separation of powers, rule of law, freedom of speech, women’s rights and minority rights, and a diverse, independent media.

WITHOUT THESE BULWARKS, THE BALLOT BOX ALONE

“Without these bulwarks, the ballot box alone only paves the way for ‘majoritarianism’ at best and authoritarianism at worst.”

Şafak’s central point is the corrosive effect of silencing writers, especially women, in an authoritarian society. It leads to the emergence of opportunistic “journalists” and “writers” who “publicly call for the arrest of their colleagues and celebrate when their wishes come true.”

She argues that there have been “four basic responses among Turkish writers to the loss of intellectual and artistic freedom.” First, depoliticisation — voluntary self-censorship. Second, over-intellectualisation — a use of abstraction “so that they won’t have to call an autocrat an autocrat.”

Third, the catapulting of certain writers into a public role for which they are unprepared, in order to combat injustice, which can affect their artistic output with varying outcomes.

And the fourth is satire. Şafak writes: “What better response to the situation than to make fun of authority, and to make fun of a society that so fears its baba — and also to make fun of ourselves?”

But, she counsels, “humour is a dangerous business in Turkey… it’s no wonder that among those arrested is one of the country’s leading cartoonists, Musa Kart.”

She concludes with a depressing picture of life for writers in Erdoğan’s Turkey: “While these four paths extend before us, we find ourselves divided into little cells, with glass walls.

“Even old friendships are fractured. Writers from wobbly geographies are being compelled to write and talk about politics like never before. Every day we face the challenge of how to balance the mundane and the momentous, the banal and the sublime, the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside.’

“Every day, we face the challenge of how to defend nuances in a culture of gross generalisations, how to build bridges of empathy where pitting one side of the society against the other plays into the hands of populist demagogues.

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