Journalists gain freedom after 375 days behind bars
Two investigative journalists are finally released, but 100 others remain in custody in Turkey.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 13/03/12
Four journalists, including well-known investigative writers Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık were released on Monday (March 12th) after being detained for 375 days on charges of links to an allegedly underground anti-government network.
Journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık wave upon arrival at a courthouse in Istanbul on March 5th. Şık and Şener, who have written investigative books about clandestine activities within the state, were released March 12th. [Reuters]
Şener and Şık were accused of having connections with Ergenekon, a network supposed to have plotted political chaos and opening the way for a coup. They were released along with two lesser-known journalists, Sait Cakır and Coskun Musluk.
The court based its decision on the time the defendants had already spent under arrest and the low risk of tampering with evidence in the case.
The arrests of these two journalists had been sparking concerns over media freedoms in Turkey and resulting criticism from the United States, the EU and international NGOs advocating freedom of speech in Turkey, now ranking the 148th of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc welcomed the release of the journalists as a positive development. "It is saddening that they spent 375 days inside by their journalist identity. The justification of this decision is of utmost importance. We should in fact question why the court didn’t deliver this decision before, " he told reporters.
The EU also welcomed the decision. Peter Stano, spokesperson of EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, told SES Türkiye that this is a welcome step, adding that the Commission will continue to closely monitor this trial and report on it in the context of the progress reports.
"The Commission calls again on Turkey to address the structural problems that continue to undermine freedom of expression in practice, the right to liberty and security and the right to a fair trial. In particular, the provisions in the Turkish Criminal Code, the Anti-Terror Law and the Code of Criminal Procedures, which lead to restrictions on freedom of expression, need to be changed."
Speaking to SES Türkiye, Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) President Ahmet Abakay thinks that both the international pressure and local discussions had a considerable impact on this decision.
Necati Abay, spokesperson of Solidarity Platform of the Imprisoned Journalists, explained to SES Türkiye that the real reason behind this decision to release is the struggle made by the progressive and pro-democracy segments both in Turkey and around the world, standing shoulder to shoulder with the imprisoned journalists.
"There is a Turkish idiom: show someone the death to persuade him/her of the malaria," and added "We shouldn’t forget our other journalist friends currently behind bars."
Şener and Şık were not the only journalists imprisoned in Turkey. The country is currently holding 101 journalists in jail although government authorities insist that they are being imprisoned not because they had spoken their mind but for crimes of sexual harassment or terrorism.
According to Gareth Jenkins, Institute for Security and Development Policy's Turkey Initiative Senior Fellow, Şık and Şener have always been the lucky ones. "They are well-known and have international organisations abroad and articulate colleagues in Turkey to speak up for them," he explained to SES Türkiye.
"I am delighted that they are free, but the greatest tragedy in these politically-driven cases is not the famous but the forgotten: the hundreds whose names the public doesn’t know who have been thrown in prison on trumped up charges and fabricated evidence."
Jenkins underlined that “we can only really celebrate this release if it is followed by the release of all of the innocent, whether they are left-wing or right-wing, Turks or Kurds.”
Main Opposition Party’s (CHP) Istanbul deputy Umut Oran has been among the main followers of this case. Speaking to SES Türkiye, Oran expressed his wishes that this release will be the start of a more comprehensive democratisation process in Turkey and that authorities give account to all the unjust treatments directed at those journalists.
Reminding that there are still eight deputies, over 100 journalists and countless military officers, students and local governors in jail, Oran underlined that unless specially authorised courts are closed and that Turkey adopts a functioning, normalised and democratic judiciary system, there will be no settlement.
According to Atabay, this case is a litmus test. "To ensure consistency by this decision and by the statements of top government officials, the other innocent journalists detained in prisons should be released on conditions of trial without arrest. It is what suits a country aiming to reach the advanced democracy level."