— The Erimtan Angle —

“Recep Tayyip Erdoğan likes to dish it out to the press. Last week he personally threatened an editor with espionage and “crimes against the government” that could mean a life sentence for Cumhuriyet’s Can Dündar. Also last week, journalist Mehmet Baransu went on trial accused of publishing classified documents, with prosecutors demanding a 52-year sentence. These cases fit a dangerous pattern. Turkey’s recent election has been marred by press harassment, silencing of news organisations, denials of accreditation, fines for criticising corruption and coverage favouring the president’s AKP party. A recent global survey of press freedom ranked Turkey 149th out of 180, below Zimbabwe and just above Russia. Last week, as the election campaign neared its climax, Turkey’s president decided to attack the international media as well as the Turkish. He singled out Germany’s Die Zeit, which was accused of going berserk over the plan to build a third Istanbul airport. Then he turned on the New York Times, which he said was run by “Jewish capital” and was “raging against me”. The attack on the Times came at the end of a week in which Mr Erdoğan had personally intervened to prevent the award of an honour that was due to be presented by the mayor of Gaziantep to the paper’s former Istanbul bureau chief. Then the president attacked the Guardian. “Do you know what an English newspaper is saying?” Mr Erdoğan told an AKP rally in Ardahan. “It says ‘poor Muslims who are not entirely westernised cannot be allowed to rule their countries on their own’.” It was shameless, Turkey’s leader said. He then warned the Guardian: “Know your place.” Mr Erdoğan’s charge against the Guardian is without any foundation. The Guardian did not say or print the words that Mr Erdoğan claimed. Nor did it say anything like them”.[1]

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused prominent international media institutions like the New York Times, CNN and the BBC of trying to weaken the country and then disintegrate it in line with instructions issued to them by what he called ‘the superior mind’. [Erdoğan told private broadcaster Show TV late June 2:] ‘Think about this; this newspaper [the NYT] did the same thing against [Ottoman] Sultan Abdülhamit in 1896. It fulfills a duty imposed by a certain power. It serves this power in line with the assignment. This is what it’s doing now. It fulfilled its duty during the Gezi incidents [in 2013] as well, as you know. Just like the BBC and CNN’. Erdoğan’s reaction against the New York Times came after an editorial in the newspaper strongly criticized his recent activities as restricting the freedom of media in Turkey and warned NATO and the United States to urge Erdoğan ‘to turn away from the destructive path’. Erdoğan harshly reacted against the newspaper and accused the NYT of conspiring against former Turkish leaders like Adnan Menderes and Turgut Özal in the past. [Erdoğan put it like this:] ‘Do you know what their aim is? To weaken Turkey, to divide it and to disintegrate it and then to swallow it. But they failed to do so. We will not allow this’ . . . Erdoğan also slammed prominent independent Turkish media institutions Cumhuriyet, over its coverage of an alleged weapons’ supply which was transported to Syrian opposition groups, and the Doğan Media Group, for its overall editorial line. Erdoğan repeated his accusations against Cumhuriyet and its editor-in-chief, Can Dündar, saying they had betrayed the country’s national interests. Accusing Doğan Media Group and others of being nourished by attacking the president and his family, Erdoğan said, ‘Of course we will continue our struggle within the laws until the end. They will go to Europe to set the world on fire. Whatever they do, we’ll continue our struggle against them within the laws. They have no rights to defame us with their lies. Those who are in Kandil [the mountain in northern Iraq where the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party has its headquarters] have their weapons in their hands. But their [journalists’] most important weapon is their pens'”.[2]

Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar came out as with fighitng words: “An aggravated life sentence, one life sentence and an additional 42 years in jail. I can sense the panic of those criminals who wonder what will happen to them in the elections. This is not enough to intimidate and lead us to give up”.[3]  The reason for this ire is the fact that the newspaper Cumhuriyet “publish[ed] video footage of what the daily said were arms being transferred to Syria on trucks operated by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT)”.[4]

And then there is the government whistleblower and Twitter phenomenon Fuat Avni who manages to be a constant nuisance for Tayyip Erdoğan and his henchmen: “Fuat Avni has a strong record of revealing many government-backed police operations to the public, and though delayed at times, all the claims have turned out to be true”.[5]

[1] “The Guardian view on President Erdogan’s lies: an apology would be welcome” The Guardian (09 June 2015). http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/09/guardian-view-president-erdogan-apology-welcome.

[2] “President Erdoğan accuses NYT, BBC and CNN of trying to weaken, divide Turkey” Hürriyet Daily News (03 June 2015). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/president-erdogan-accuses-nyt-bbc-and-cnn-of-trying-to-weaken-divide-turkey.aspx?pageID=238&nID=83393&NewsCatID=338.

[3] “Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Dündar says he will never bow to Erdoğan’s threats” Cihan News Agency (04 June 2015). http://en.cihan.com.tr/news/Cumhuriyet-editor-in-chief-Dundar-says-he-will-never-bow-to-Erdogans-threats_7826-CHMTc5NzgyNg==.

[4] “Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Dündar says he will never bow to Erdoğan’s threats”.

[5] “Fuat Avni’s mass detention claims coming true would mean regime change in Turkey, says Dumanlı” Today’s Zaman (01 June 2015). http://www.todayszaman.com/national_fuat-avnis-mass-detention-claims-coming-true-would-mean-regime-change-in-turkey-says-dumanli_382278.html.

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