No Way to Run a Democracy


New York Times
, Editorial, 11 March 2011

Turkey has long provided a heartening model of democracy for the Muslim world. Now, with so many people in the region demanding freedom, Turkey’s government is betraying its values and its citizens, pressuring journalists to mute critical reporting about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his administration.

Last week, a leading investigative journalist, Nedim Sener, was arrested.
 


New York Times
, Editorial, 11 March 2011

Turkey has long provided a heartening model of democracy for the Muslim world. Now, with so many people in the region demanding freedom, Turkey’s government is betraying its values and its citizens, pressuring journalists to mute critical reporting about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his administration.

Last week, a leading investigative journalist, Nedim Sener, was arrested.
 

He had earlier angered the authorities by digging into the 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist who had also run afoul of the government. More recently, Mr. Sener has questioned the government’s handling of an alleged terrorist conspiracy to overthrow the Erdogan government.
 
He is being held on the astonishing claim that he is somehow part of that conspiracy. His lawyers are not permitted to see any evidence the government may have against him. Human rights advocates fear that he could be detained for years. Similar charges have been leveled against another prominent journalist, Ahmet Sik.

These arrests are the latest fallout from the Erdogan government’s seemingly out-of-control conspiracy investigations. A parallel investigation into an alleged military coup plot has resulted in the imprisonment of 1 out of every 10 high-ranking officers.

Neither investigation has yet come up with conclusive evidence of actual conspiracies. But hundreds of journalists have been subjected to criminal investigations for their reporting on these inquiries, leading some newspapers to engage in self-censorship.

Turkey has a painful history of military coups, and if the government has hard evidence of new conspiracies it should investigate and bring those involved to trial. But defense lawyers cannot be denied access to any evidence against their clients, and detaining journalists for what they write must stop. Mr. Erdogan’s party must use its parliamentary majority to reform the penal code so that normal investigative reporting can no longer be prosecuted as a crime.

Since Mr. Erdogan took office in 2003, he and his party have changed Turkish society for the better. They have shown that a party rooted in Islam can reinforce democracy by expanding religious freedom. And they have reasserted civilian control over a politicized military. They must now set these spiraling conspiracy investigations on a sounder legal basis, or risk these achievements and their country’s democracy.

Nedim Sener, World Press Hero (Honoure in June 2010)
International Press Institute, 13 March 2011

Şener, an author and investigative reporter at the Turkish daily national newspaper Milliyet, came to prominence following the publication of his book on the murder of Dink,  the Turkish-Armenian who was editor-in-chief of Agos.  Şener’s controversial book uncovered the involvement of Turkish security agencies in Dink’s killing outside of the Armenian weekly newspaper’s office in January 2007.  His book led to the filing of charges by several senior police and security service officials.

"Şener’s determination to continue with his investigative reporting, particularly in relation to the Dink murder case, despite the threats he has faced, both inside and outside of the courtroom, is to be commended. We are proud to announce him as our 56th World Press Freedom Hero," said Alison Bethel McKenzie, Deputy Director of the International Press Institute.

Following the publication of The Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies in February 2009, the then-chief of police in Trabzon, a police officer of the Intelligence Office Presidency, the Trabzon Police Intelligence branch manager and the deputy chief of the Istanbul Police all filed criminal complaints against Şener.

Through his book and regular writings for Milliyet, Şener revealed the truth behind the preparation, implementation, investigation and prosecution of Dink’s murder, drawing attention to the roles played by official staff. Şener’s investigative reporting showed that the murder had been professionally planned well in advance, as well as blowing the cover of the officials at National Intelligence Organization who threatened Dink in 2004.

Furthermore he exposed the negligence and attempts to cover up the negligent police investigation of Dink’s murder as well as indicating that the head of General Directorate of Security Affairs deliberately attempted to conceal evidence.

His investigations and writings were highly-praised by the IPI Turkish National Committee during the nominations process for World Press Freedom Hero.  Commenting on Şener’s selection, the IPI Turkish National Committee said: "He really was a hero to carry out such an investigation and to very openly write about the Dink murder not only in book but also in his articles in his newspaper.  He kept it on the agenda; that wasn’t an easy thing to do because of all the problems with all the officials who were involved.  It was a very brave thing to do."

Şener first faced trial in June 2009, accused of multiple charges: targeting the persons who have taken responsible tasks in the fight against terrorism, identifying people as targets for terror organisations, obtaining secret information, revealing secret information, violating communication privacy and attempting to effect a fair trial.

He faced a total of 32 years and six months in prison, even though Dink’s murderer was given a 20 year sentence.

Şener was eventually acquitted of most of the charges on 4 June 2010; however he will still face some charges in a later hearing next month.

Speaking to the Press Freedom team at IPI headquarters in Vienna on the announcement of his award, Şener said: "I am very honoured and thankful to the IPI and the Turkish National Committee."

In a TV interview with Turkish CNN last week, Şener had admitted he was “really scared” to receive an award which has already been awarded to two dead Turkish journalists. He further reiterated the concern to IPI. “I am afraid. You cannot feel safe in Turkey; the condition of communications and media freedom is very bad.  You can be killed if you write about the Dink murder. It is very dangerous.

"I chose to write about Hrant Dink’s murder because firstly he was a human and he had the human right to life. He was a very good journalist in Turkey. He wanted to protect minorities’ rights and that is very important. But also, I wrote it because Dink was my friend."

Şener is the third Turkish journalist to be selected as an IPI World Press Freedom Hero.  In 2000, Abdi Ipekci was selected for his role in helping better relations between Greek and Turkish journalists. Hrant Dink was selected by the IPI Executive Board and honoured posthumously as an IPI World Press Freedom Hero in 2007 following his assassination.

 
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