Journalists on Coup Trial in Turkey
December 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
NOVEMBER 23, 2011
By Ayla Albayrak
- AFP/Getty Images
- Journalists and human right activists protest in front of the courthouse in Istanbul during the trial of two prominent Turkish journalists on Tuesday.
ISTANBUL — Thirteen people went on trial Tuesday accused of involvement in a plan to topple Turkey’s AK-Party government, including two investigative journalists whose arrest and near-nine month detention has become a rallying point for critics of the government’s record on media freedom.
Turkish and international human rights groups say the cases of Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik highlight the poor state of press freedom in Turkey, and see their long detentions as punishment for journalistic work.
The two journalists are accused of helping an alleged organization known as Ergenekon, which is accused of attempting to destabilize Turkey and prepare grounds for a military coup against the ruling AK Party after it swept to power in 2002. Turkey has experienced three coup-d’états in 1960, 1971, and 1980, as well as other less direct political interventions by the military.
Outside the courthouse in Istanbul, a group of journalists and freedom activists demonstrated, demanding the journalists’ release. The court held the accused, due to the “nature of the crime” and the length of the prison sentences they face, if found guilty — between 7 and 15 years for Messrs. Sik and Sener. “Every month we apply for them to be freed on bail, but we are rejected on grounds that they may escape,” said lawyer Fikret Ilkiz outside the courthouse to a group from the European Parliament, who traveled to Turkey to monitor the highly publicized case.
“Does this mean they can be kept in detention for another 7, 8, 9 months?” a member of the delegation asked, clearly perplexed. “Yes, it is possible,” Mr. Ilkiz replied.
The evidence against Messrs. Sik and Sener focuses on their journalistic work, books they wrote or were suspected of contributing to, and alleged contacts and communication with people suspected of being members or in the leadership of Ergenekon.
Hundreds face charges for membership in or affiliation with Ergenekon in different trials, many of them former or current members of Turkey’s military, but the cases of Messrs. Sik and Sener are among the most high-profile here.The trial was postponed until Dec. 26 due to questions over the objectivity of the president of the court, who is involved in another related case. A higher court is expected to make the decision on this some time this week. Messrs. Sik and Sener did not have chance to speak during the hearing, but at point Sik turned to the audience — blowing kisses, waving his hand and exclaiming, “We will be back, don’t you worry about that!”
Mr. Sener’s close colleagues meanwhile, pointed to his dramatic weight loss as a sign of stress. At the time of his arrest, Ahmet Sik was working on a book called the “Army of Imam,” which was confiscated by the police after Mr. Sik’s arrest, and banned from publication. Mr. Sik claims in his book, that an Islamic movement, led by a Turkish businessman-imam Fethullah Gulen in the U.S., has systematically infiltrated into the police force to create ‘an army’ for the movement.
Mr. Gulen is a feared Islamist revolutionary or a celebrated modernizer of Islam — depending on who you ask.
Mr. Sener, an award-winning journalist famed for spotlighting the shortcomings in the investigation into the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor, Hrant Dink, is accused of helping research Mr. Sik’s book and other books tagged as “organizational documents.”
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that around two dozen journalists are in Turkish jails and none in connection with their journalistic work. Many of the jailed journalists are Kurds, accused of spreading propaganda for the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. Human rights groups in Turkey and abroad disagree with Mr. Erdogan. They say the number of jailed journalists is above 50 and that they were punished for their work.
Turkish writer and journalist, Nevzat Onaran, who followed events at Tuesday’s hearing, said he was disappointed on how freedom of expression has failed to develop in Turkey over decades. “In the 2000’s, it seemed for a while that the atmosphere would be changing, with many reforms,” Mr. Onaran said. “But those reforms have not changed much, and (for journalists and writers) they have actually brought more mines to step onto.”