One Year On, Prominent Turkish Reporter and IPI World Press Freedom Hero Languishes in Prison
March 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
Journalists Around the World Call for Nedim Şener’s Release
By: Steven M. Ellis, IPI Press Freedom Adviser for Europe and North America
VIENNA, Mar 2, 2012 – Journalists around the world today joined the International Press Institute (IPI) in condemning Turkey’s continued imprisonment of investigative journalist and IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Şener, one year after he was detained in connection with an alleged coup plot.
IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “The fact that Nedim Şener has been taken away from his family and locked up for a year on allegations that his journalism was a sham designed to protect those whose wrongdoing it exposed is both tragic and absurd. We call on Turkey’s authorities to immediately release Mr. Şener and his co-defendants in the Oda TV case pending trial, and to ensure that their trial is fair and fully in line with international standards of due process.”
Police detained Şener Mar. 3, 2011 in a raid targeting journalists and others connected with nationalist news website Oda TV. Authorities say the website acted as the media wing for the so-called “Ergenekon” plot, in which secularists and ultra-nationalists allegedly planned to use terrorism to overthrow the government of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Prosecutors accuse the defendants of seeking to advance the plot by using media to discredit the government’s probe into it.
Şener and his fellow defendants in the Oda TV case – including investigative journalist Ahmet Şik, writer Yalçin Küçük, Oda TV executive Soner Yalçin and six other journalists –were not informed about the specific charges against them until nearly seven months after they were detained. Şener was originally accused of membership in an armed terrorist organisation, but he was ultimately charged with aiding such an organisation. He faces seven-and-a-half to 15 years in prison if convicted.
According to a recent report by news website Bianet.org, the Oda TV defendants are among 104 journalists imprisoned in Turkey as of Jan. 1, 2012, all for alleged violations of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law and the Turkish Penal Code.
Dr. Carl-Eugen Eberle, chair of IPI’s Executive Board and the former director of legal affairs for German Broadcaster ZDF, and Ferai Tinç, also a member of IPI’s Executive Board and the chair of IPI’s Turkish National Committee, both expressed strong support for Şener and the other detained journalists.
Fellow IPI Executive Board member and BBC Scotland Director Ken MacQuarrie noted that Şener has now been imprisoned for more than half of the time that has passed since he received his IPI World Press Freedom Hero award at a ceremony in Vienna in September 2010.
“Given the anniversary of Mr. Şener’s incarceration is upon us, it is essential that those of us who can, mark such a dark day by highlighting as widely as possible the appalling nature of his detention,” MacQuarrie said. “With more than 100 other journalists also imprisoned in Turkey and their human rights so completely denied, Mr Şener’s unedifying situation is sadly and shamefully not an isolated case.”
Tinç’s colleague on the board of IPI’s Turkish National Committee, Kadri Gürsel, a columnist for Turkish daily Milliyet, added: “Exactly one year ago, authorities took Nedim Şener into custody claiming that he is member of terrorist organization. This claim was dropped in the indictment and now he is accused of aiding and abetting. The judiciary is having great trouble defending and justifying his imprisonment, which has turned into extra-judicial punishment. To free Turkey from this shame, Nedim Şener has to be set free immediately.”
Şener and his co-defendants have argued that they are being targeted for the content of their writings and that purportedly incriminating files found on Oda TV computer hard drives were placed there by hackers. Turkey’s government maintains, however, that the journalists have not been targeted because of their work.
Oliver Vujovic, secretary general of the South and East Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI subsidiary that has also been active in Turkey, said his group was still waiting to see evidence of any wrongdoing.
“If it exists, it should be provided,” Vujovic said. “If it does not, Mr. Şener should be freed. I fully support Mr. Şener and I would like to remind the Turkish authorities that keeping Mr. Şener and dozens of journalists in jail is not the best way to consolidate democracy.”
Şener was an investigative journalist with Milliyet before his arrest and he has written extensively about government corruption in his 20-year career. Recently, he has been active in documenting the “deep state” in Turkey, an alleged group of influential anti-democratic forces within the government purportedly made up of high-level elements within security and intelligence services, the military and the judiciary.
He also has actively criticised the state’s failure to prevent the 2007 murder of his friend and fellow IPI World Press Freedom Hero, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, and he consistently points out the contradiction in the government’s suggestion that he worked on behalf of the shadowy group he blames for Dink’s death. In a letter to IPI last October from the Silivri Prison, Şener wrote that those investigating the Ergenekon plot were “the same police officers who I wrote were involved in the Dink murder with their neglect”.
He added: “Whatever the Turkish state alleges, I’d like to assure you that I didn’t conduct any activity outside the domain of journalism…At the end of the day, the indictment and its appendix show that the prosecution’s only charge against me is journalism. Therefore, it is journalism that will be tried in court.”
Many of Şener’s fellow IPI World Press Freedom Heroes expressed support for their colleague.
Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, who was honoured in 2000 and who has fought for media freedom in the Palestinian Territories, noted: “Arrest and restrictions on journalists for their work is a violation of the 19th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
South African editor and publisher Raymond Louw – a 2011 honouree who battled apartheid and censorship in his country – labelled Şener’s detention “unjustified”. Louw urged Turkish authorities “to heed the denials of Mr. Şener and his colleagues of the allegations that have been brought against them and release them.”
Journalist Doan Viet Hoat, a 2000 honouree and one of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents who was held as a prisoner of conscience for almost 20 years, commented: “I strongly condemn the Turkish government in detaining Mr. Şener and I demand his release immediately and unconditionally.”
Liberian journalist Kenneth Best, who was honoured in 2000 for his work toward media freedom in West Africa, said: “Oppressive governments all over the world would use every opportunity to persecute those, especially journalists, who have the courage to speak and write about injustice and oppression taking place around them…Many are those daring journalistic souls who dare to re-echo the thoughts and feelings of dissidents. Journalists usually become victims of the ‘blame the messenger’ syndrome. That seems to be the fate of our esteemed colleague in Turkey, Nedim Şener.”
Şener’s wife, Vecide, described to IPI the toll her husband’s plight has taken on their family.
“What we have passed through has been a very sad and hurting process,” she said. “I received from the prosecutor a formal letter saying that ‘your husband is detained, he is a member of a terrorist organisation’. But when we finally saw the indictment, it said ‘aiding a terrorist organization’. Now my husband has three identity cards at the prison, two of them are international identity cards for journalists and one identity card says ‘terrorist organization member’ on it. We believed in law, but nothing has changed during this whole year. It is now clear that my husband is a real journalist.”
Nedim Şener remains incarcerated in the Silivri Prison in Turkey. Tomorrow will mark one year since his detention. Please add your name to this petition calling for his release.