Aysen Guven, Television presenter at Hayatin Sesi TV and arts editor at Evrensel Daily Newspaper.
5 July 2016
Aysen Guven shares her observations of developments in Turkey in relation to press freedom.
In terms of press freedom we are witnessing one of the most difficult periods in Turkey. Everyday someone is put on trial, questioned and / or arrested. The political environment changes so fast in Turkey, such that it resembles the ad-hoc movement in financial stock markets. As I prepare my statement on 29 June 2016 the following developments had happened in Turkey.
- Three people arrested for taking part in the daily rotating editor in chief role
The issue of press freedom resurfaces mostly with the issue of Kurdish question. The pressure on the press escalated following president Erdogan’s statement that the negotiations between the state and Kurdish movement representatives “were put on ice” and a period of conflict was initiated. For example the “pro-Kurdish” newspaper Ozgur Gundem was not subject to any court proceedings or arrests at the time of peace negotiations between the state and the representatives of the Kurdish people. However once the negotiations were “put on ice” the newspaper became subject to intense questioning over its articles and news stories. In response to the arrest and the court proceedings against its chief editor, the paper launched a campaign calling out for individuals to take on the responsibility of chief editor for a day as a way to show support for the paper during this difficult time.
As part of this ongoing campaign journalists, human rights activists, intellectuals and artists took the role of chief editor for a day. In total 56 people took on the chief editor responsibility, 50 were questioned, 16 had court proceedings brought against them, 3 were arrested. Of these only 6 people had their cases dropped due to lack of grounds for legal action. On 20 June 2015, Reporters Without Borders’ Turkey representative, Erol Onderoglu; the writer, Ahmet Nesin; and the president of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation, Sebnem Korur Fincanci were detained for taking part in this campaign. They have now been released.
- A new low in press freedom – 37 journalists detained in Turkey’s prisons
According to the National Union of Journalists in Turkey there are 37 journalists who are currently arrested and convicted. Moreover, the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders cites Turkey as one of the most difficult countries in which to be a journalist. Turkey is listed as 151 of 180 nations that have been surveyed, confirming that it is one of the least free countries in terms of press freedom.
- Rise in the number of criminal investigations for insulting the president
The most common criminal investigations in Turkey are ones that relate to “insulting” the president and it has become a very popular topic of discussions. According to the formal announcement by the Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, 1845 people have had criminal investigations brought against them for allegedly insulting the president.
- Censorship extended to Germany
President Erdogan went as far as to make a formal complaint against German comedian Jan Bohmermann for allegedly insulting him in one of his lyrics broadcasted on TV. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel further escalated the situation by apologising for Bohmermann’s “intentionally hurtful” poem and the government approved Bohmermann’s criminal prosecution.
- Criminal proceedings against Evrensel reporters
Evrensel reporters have also come under fire for their coverage of developments in Turkey and court proceedings have been brought against journalists who are alleged to have engaged in “terrorist propaganda” or “promoted and/or praised perpetrators of terrorism”. Additionally, other excuses are also utilised against reporters who critique the Government, for example Ender Imrek and A. Cihan Soylu who both write for Evrensel Newspaper in Turkey recently were subject to court proceedings for allegedly insulting the president.
- Cutting of the financial livelihood of opposition newspapers
As a result of its critical news coverage, Evrensel has also become a target by the Press Advertisement Body which has blocked official advertisements in the newspaper without any criminal or civil proceedings to justify this intervention. Access to formal advertisements is a key source of income for the press (including Evrensel Newspaper) and is now being used by the State to force the opposition press to broadcast in favour of the AKP government.
- Can Dundar and Erdem Gul
Can Dunar and Erdem Gul have exposed the AKP government’s complicity in the supply of weapons to Islamic extremist groups in Syria. Both were convicted of obtaining and publishing secret documents belonging to the state. Can Dundar was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months imprisonment, and Erdem Gul was sentenced to 5 years.
- Censorship of opposition TV Stations – a series of fines and warnings for Hayatin Sesi TV
The TV and Radio regulator (also known as RTUK) is at the heart of the government clampdowns on opposition media sources. The regulator is overseen and controlled by AKP. There is a so-called cross party board that oversees the regulator however the AKP and pro-establishment parties dominate board. Moreover the nationalist party MHP, often votes in complicity with the ruling government to censor and punish oppositional views. This is increasingly the case due to the lack of public opposition to the abuse of power by the regulator.
In the past month Hayatin Sesi received four fines from RTUK. These related to a series of broadcasts relating to current developments in Turkey. In particular, Hayatin Sesi received a warning and fine 14,359 TL (approx. £3800) for its reporting of the terrorist attack on 13 March in Ankara, a warning for its reporting of the ISIS attack in the area of Istiklal Street in Istanbul, and another fine of 14 359 TL for its special report on the curfews in Cizre. The TV station has also been warned that should these “offences” be repeated that it faces forced closure of 10 days and possible revocation of its licence. There are two more penalties being discussed by RTUK which relate to Hayatin Sesi but decision have not been made at the time of writing.
- IMC TV censored by Turksat Satellite
IMC TV, another opposition TV station which has been highly critical of the AKP government has also had its license revoked by TurkSat Satellite as part of the clamp down and censorship of those critical of the AKP government. The station is now only able to broadcast from the alternative platform the HotBird satellite
- The closing of Ozgur Gun (Freedom Day) TV
The alternative TV station Ozgur Gun which broadcasts from Diyarbakir was also subject to one day closure and 14,359 TL fine by RTUK. The rational for the fine and censorship was the channel’s broadcast by a reporter on 20 January commenting on the opening of fire on civilians trying to rescue injured people in Cizre, and the resulting death of 2 people and further 12 injured.
- Censorship of Social Media
Following the recent terrorist attacks at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, the AKP government’s first knee jerk reaction was to ban broadcasting and commentary on the attacks, and intervene to block or slow down access to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. This has become the default position of the AKP government which has sought to deprive the public of news and communications at times of desperate need. It is widely felt that the purpose of such censorship is to prevent the exposure of the government’s complicity and or failure with regards the growth of Islamic extremism in Turkey. The public continued to face difficulties accessing social networking sites the day after the terrorist attack in Istanbul Ataturk Airport. The Information Technology and Communications Institute announced that they considered all digital footage and images of the attacks on social networking sites as serving “the aims of terrorism”.
On Friday, 15th July 2016, Turkey witnessed an unprecedented example of a failed coup with more than 300 killed and over a thousand injured. The coup is said to be attempted by a section of officers within the military, judiciary and police. 9,000 people have been arrested and further arrests are expected in connection with the failed coup.
However over the past decade, Erdogan has silenced, marginalised, or crushed many opposition including newspaper editors, university professors, aid workers, and dissident politicians. We are concerned that Erdogan will escalate these attacks following the failed coup.
What seems evident is the nature of the incident on Friday which demonstrated the clash between oppressive forces. This was not in any way in the interest of the people of Turkey. This was a direct result of the naked struggle for power in which Erdogan has been at the heart of it. The aim of building a ‘one man nation’ has generated issues and conflicts both within his party as well as those in opposition.
On the night of 15 July the coup plotters took over the state TV channel TRT and announced that they had taken over the administration of government. On the other hand, the radio and television regulator RTUK under the control of president Erdogan shut down Hayatin Sesi TV and Halk TV which stand in opposition to his power but did not support the coup.
It is ironic that the same president that ordered police to fire at protestors during the Gezi uprising in 2013, last night used social media to call on his supporters to come onto the streets in defiance of the attempted military coup.
During his first speech after the failed coup at the Istanbul Airport, Erdoğan referred to the attempted coup as a “gift from God.” Erdoğan is usually a precise speaker, but in this case, perhaps in his excitement, he showed his cards. With the coup attempt thwarted, he will no doubt seize the moment. In recent months, Erdogan has made little secret of his desire to rewrite the constitution to give himself near total power. As a leader who have been criticised recently regarding the human rights and freedom of speech violations, this so called ‘Gift from the God’ might be perfect cover for him to implement and impose more Islamic and oppressed policies.
We in Europe and the people of Turkey say “No to military coups and no to an authoritarian regime. We want a secular and democratic Turkey”. This conflict of competing interests between some sections of the military and the ruling AKP is not in the interests of the people. We stand against these forces and raise the common demand of the people of Turkey for a secular, democratic and free country.
Statement dated 19 July 2016
29 October 2016 @ NUT Headquarters, London
As Turkey heads towards a dictatorship, standing up for democracy is not just in the interests of the people of Turkey, it is also essential for the future peace, security and democracy of Europe and the Middle East.
A message from SPOT
The first SPOT conference on Turkey took place on 29 October 2016 at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Headquarters in Euston, London. Over 150 people attended the conference from a range of organisations, with representation from the Turkish and Kurdish community, as well as UK based trade unions, academics, human rights associations, campaign groups and the media.
SPOT aims to build a bridge that connects a diverse range of individuals and groups fighting for justice and democratic freedom – both in the UK and in Turkey.
Turkey is undergoing a critical period in its history and there is an urgent need to act to support and strengthen the fight for democratic rights and freedoms, and put an end to the breaches of human rights across the country, particularly in the Kurdish-majority regions.
This report sets out the key outcomes from the conference and next steps we will be taking in the coming months.
We are grateful to all our speakers, supporting organisations and delegates for making the conference possible. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the NUT for hosting us and to Anne Swift, NUT President for further reaffirming their solidarity.
SPOT Steering Committee
We are on the verge of a third world war, and the struggle today is not just about struggling with Turkey. It is about standing up for our collective future.
Making international solidarity a reality
There is a long tradition of joint working between the Turkish and Kurdish communities, progressive individuals and the campaigning organisations in London, not least trade unions and academics. The aim of this conference was to build on and extend these relationships by bringing together key players in the democratic struggle in the UK with representatives from Turkey. During the course of the day we heard from speakers about their aspirations for working together, and how supporting the resistance in Turkey strengthens the ongoing fight in the UK against attacks on workers’ rights and on public services under the pretext of austerity.
Trade union and academic representatives sent a message of solidarity, pledging that they would not remain silent as attacks in Turkey on Kurdish people, the freedom of expression, freedom of the media and workers’ rights intensified. There was also a commitment from SPOT to continue actively supporting the struggle of the working class in the UK against austerity and increasing hardship faced by indigenous communities and migrants in the UK.
Stressing the connection between war and fascism, speakers from Turkey also shared their observations of developments in Turkey following the attempted coup on 15 July 2016 and the ongoing state of emergency that was declared. It was highlighted that the politics of the AKP is one of war at home and abroad, and that it is in this context that workers’ rights are being trampled on and flagrant breaches of human rights are taking place.
Freedom of expression and the media as a means of raising awareness and calling to account such attacks on democratic freedoms was recognised as essential to a functioning democracy. The role that the media have in strengthening the efforts of progressive forces and effective opposition were also noted as key reasons behind the state’s closure of media outlets and scores of academics and journalists being arrested. As a result, the struggle for democracy in Turkey must at its heart be anti-war, which necessitates a peaceful and democratic resolution of the long-standing Kurdish Question in Turkey by the recognition and granting of the long-denied demands and socio-cultural, political and economic rights of Turkey’s Kurds. Together we must join forces so that we maximise our reach and effectiveness when standing up for the fundamental rights of the all minorities, working people and human rights for all.
SPOT is a campaign group dedicated to making a real difference to the struggle for democracy in Turkey, and the success of this conference will be judged by the extent to which we are able to bring to life the campaigns and actions agreed.
What next for SPOT?
During the course of the conference, we had passionate conversations with delegates both within and outside the workshops on how to take forward our aspirations and work better together as the attacks on democracy intensify in Turkey. Even as we spoke the AKP had begun taking steps to shut down news agencies and alternative publications, including Cumhuriyet, Evrensel Kulture, Ozgurluk Dunyasi and Tiroj. At the time of writing attacks have intensified against the elected HDP members of parliament, including the co-leaders of the Party Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag who were arrested and detained when their homes were raided on the evening of 3 November. All attempts at democratic opposition are now under siege, as such the work of SPOT is more important than ever before.
Going forward SPOT will work in solidarity with all democratic and progressive individuals and groups to:
- Continue supporting anti-war movements both in the UK and Turkey
- Continue supporting pro-refugee campaigns in the UK
- Create a dialogue between the anti-war movements in the UK and Turkey.
- Provide regular updates on the treatment and conditions of refugees in Turkey.
- Campaign for academic Freedom and Freedom of the Press
- Support the struggle of the Kurdish community
- Create a workers’ charter to advocate and promote workers’ rights in Turkey.
- Organise and publicise a campaign to demand an amnesty for trade unionists imprisoned.
- Promote the rights of the women workers who are being forced out of workplaces and replaced by men.
- Identify companies in the UK which have links with the Turkish government and companies – lobby and advocate for an end to the attacks on workers’ rights.
- Develop a dialogue between the British and Turkish and Kurdish labour movement through:
- Organising meetings to discuss the issues of the workers in Turkey – this could be both standalone meetings as well as through trade union conferences.
- Invite trade union and workers to UK to give their account of workers’ rights in Turkey.
- Organise trade union delegation to Turkey to meet with union representations in Turkey.
- Write to journalists, authors and academics in Turkey to express solidarity with them and their struggle for peace and democracy.
- Promote their work and introduce them to the British public through meetings, events and promotions.
- Continue working with freedom of expression campaign groups to put pressure on the Turkish Government to release arrested academics, journalists and elected representatives.
- Work with academics and human rights campaigners to ensure that trials of opposition academics, journalists and elected representatives are monitored.
Developments in Turkey have not been dealt with in detail in this report, and, needless to say, there are many aspects of the struggle in Turkey, including LGBT rights, women’s rights and environmental campaigns. SPOT is keen to hear from groups and individuals passionate about these causes too and would welcome opportunities to support the work of specialists and experts in these fields.
For more information and to sign up to our bulletin please contact us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Alternatively follow us on Facebook or twitter (@spotturkey).
 The SPOT Steering Group is made up of representatives from Day-Mer Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre / National Shop Stewards Network, Public and Commercial Services Union, Rail and Maritime Union, SOAS, King’s College London, Greater London Authority Trade Union Council, Academics
17 November 2016 will be remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of Turkey for women and girls. On the evening of 17 November, AKP MPs proposed and voted in favour of draft legislation which paves the way for the normalisation of sexual violence and legalises the marriage of survivors with perpetrators of rape and child abuse. The draft legislation in effect means that;
A person’s punishment will be removed, if he commits the crime of rape or sexual abuse and marries the victim. This means that if a person sexually abuses a child and then marries that child, they will avoid punishment.
We know that women and girls in Turkey are already illegally being married to their rapists and abusers – through threats, pressure and force… From now on it will be legal for rapists and abusers to marry their victims. Rapists and abusers are being rewarded and cleared of their crimes; but millions of women and children will be forced to marry their perpetrators with the approval of parliament.
Even before this motion was brought to parliament, under the pretext of fighting against the coup plotters, the ruling AKP used the powers allowed under the state of emergency to close down women’s groups and organisations set up to protect children. We now know why so many women’s groups and organisations protecting children’s rights were recently shut down and their work purposefully thwarted.
This is not the first time the AKP Government has brought this issue onto the agenda. At the start of 2016 a similar motion was proposed by the Divorce Commission set up by the parliament. At the time the motion was not passed but has now been revised and forced through parliament so that it can be legally binding.
We refuse to accept this decision which is imposed on women and children. While democratic rights are suspended under the state of emergency, the AKP Government works tirelessly to put together a motion which allows rapists to avoid punishment and further normalises violence against women and girls.
The Labour Party of Turkey
Supporters of SPOT are encouraged to attend a solidarity demonstration with Turkey at 12:00 noon on Sunday 11 December 2016 outside the Turkish Embassy, 43 Belgrave Square, SW1X 8PA London to condemn the attacks on the progressive forces in Turkey, including MPs, journalists, workers and the NGOs.
The protest is organised by Britannia Democratic Union Initiative. It is a coalition of Turkish and Kurdish organisations which supports the democratic struggles in Turkey and Britain. The union is made up of 17 Turkish and Kurdish community centres in Britain.
The Austrian parliament has unanimously adopted a motion calling for a ban on selling arms as well as dual-use products for military or police purposes to Turkey. The move provoked an outcry among politicians and civil servants in Turkey. The motion called on the Austrian government to consider the threat of armed conflicts, as well as the human rights situation when considering approval of such exports.