The Fallout. What it’s like to be a Journalist in Turkey, post-coup.
“We’re at a place now where we’ve gone from censorship to self-censorship. It’s very dangerous.”
Aylin has a following. She is a journalist with one of Turkey’s most major newspapers.
But Aylin is not her real name. And I can not name the paper she writes for.
“We’re at a place now where we’ve gone from censorship to self-censorship,” she says. “It’s very dangerous.”
Though things were never a “rose-garden” for journalists, freedom of the press took a nose-dive after Gezi Park four years before. Now in the wake of this year’s attempted coup, it’s tanked.
We’re sitting outside at a local breakfast spot, sipping on Turkish coffee and tea. It’s a beautiful August day in Istanbul — the city Aylin dreamed of living in since she was a young child. She moved here in her early 20s. That was 16 years ago, and since then she has become completely disenchanted. She’s watched the city morph in ways she never expected. “Istanbul used to be full of music and lively,” she laments. “Now bars are turning into Baclavacis (places that sell baclava). Things are moving in a very conservative direction. There is so much tension.”
Aylin carries a relaxed demeanor but the stress she’s feeling is palpable.
“I’m in my late 30s now but if I started my career in this climate, I’d just shoot myself,” she says as she lights her cigarette. “At least when I began, things were good here. Now, if I could move out of the country all together, I would.” But she then reasons that not only is it hard to start fresh in a new country— given the current political situation — it’s not even possible. Journalists aren’t allowed to travel abroad at this time.
The day I met with Aylin, there were already 97 jailed journalists in Turkey. The Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) reported that half of Turkey’s imprisoned journalists have been arrested in 2016, and that’s just skimming the surface.
According to a columnist for the Hurriyet newspaper in an article by the Turkish Sun, “Journalists are arrested every day, detained, attacked and threatened. They are taken to court on accusations such as ‘attempting a coup, spying, assisting terror organizations, sedition, threats to the security of the state and the incitement of anger and hate.’ Collectively they are facing 2,229 years and six months in prison. They are being smothered with investigations and court cases and are sentenced to pay fines.”
Since the attempted coup, the government has declared the country to be in a state of emergency. More than 40,000 people — academics, journalists, state employees, to military officials — have been detained under the blanket suspicion of being “Gülenists,” supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based cleric whom Erdogan accused of plotting the coup.
According to Newsweek, the arrests are so extensive that the government has made space by purging over 38,000 people imprisoned for crimes committed before July. While government officials claim that the state of emergency will be used exclusively to bring the coup’s plotters to justice, many journalists who appear to have no link to Gülen have also been swept-up and over 130 media outposts, particularly Kurdish-run, have been forced to shut-down.
Can Dündar, one of Turkey’s most celebrated journalists just resigned this month from his post as the editor of the Cumhuriyet. He’s currently in Europe, and his lawyers have advised him to not return to Turkey. In May, he was sentenced to over 5 years in prison after being found guilty of revealing state secrets. Dundar told Newsweek that despite his lawyers’ appeal, the courts are a tool of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and no longer independent. “The prosecutor who arrested me is now the chief prosecutor in Istanbul.”
Aylin says many of her colleagues have been sacked, and quite a few have been arrested. Last year she was personally sued by Erogan for her critical statements, but “luckily he never followed through with the case.” There isn’t a day for her that goes without receiving death threats from social media trolls, to which she says, “It’s no mystery that the Turkish government hires them. Everyone knows this. It’s not a secret or conspiracy.”
While most Turkish people are relieved the coup failed, government critics fear Erdogan will continue leveraging the the failed takeover to suppress all sources of dissent.