Dozens of journalists have been arrested in the wake of Turkey’s recent coup attempt. The government crackdown has sparked concern for journalists who work in an increasingly difficult environment.
The morning after the coup attempt on July 15, the world woke up to a new Turkey, consumed with fear and anxiety. The arrests began within the military and government, spread to the business world and are now targeting journalists. In one evening, a list was released of 42 journalists to be detained in Turkey, a country with an already diminished state of press freedom.
But the detentions did not stop there. Authorities are seeking to detain 47 former editors and writers from the Fethullah Gulen movement-linked daily “Zaman” newpaper, which was seized by the government earlier this year. Police are currently taking names from that list into custody.
This crackdown has heightened the fear within the Turkish press; not all the names on the list were those working in media organizations close to the Gulen movement. It includes those who criticized the government before July 15. One of these journalists, Bulent Mumay, had been forced out of his position as the digital publications coordinator at the “Hurriyet” daily newspaper for his critical views.
Mumay’s detention prompted a major reaction from his colleagues, who launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #GazetecilikSuçDeğildir (journalism is not a crime). Mumay’s colleagues in the press went to the courthouse in Istanbul in anticipation that he would be brought before a prosecutor, though when this will happen is unknown. Due to the recent state of emergency declaration, the detention period in Turkey has been extended to 30 days.
Lawyer in the dark
Mumay’s lawyer Levent Aydas said that the detained journalists are unable to guess when they will appear in front of a prosecutor because of the long list of detainees and the lengthy preparation time of the prosecutor’s office. Due to the state of emergency, Aydas said he has been unable to see his client but he had obtained information indicating he was in good spirits. He added that they have not been informed as to why Mumay was on the list, emphasizing his client had nothing to do with either the coup attempt or the Gulen community.
Aydas also does not know the charges against Mumay. “We have not had an opportunity to see the file. We have tried to build a defense against what the possible charges could be, based on the nature of the investigation. We thought it might be something outside of being a member of the Gulen community – that he is being accused of supporting the coup. But that is also not possible. Bulent has stood against coups for his entire life as a journalist and his news reports, statements and lifestyle are out in the open,” Aydas said.
According to Aydas, Mumay was among the journalists who had confrontations with the Gulen community.
“It is hard to say that all of the names on the list are tied to the Gulen community. There are other names like Bulent’s that surprised everyone. As such, a healthy evaluation cannot be made. There is in no way a logical explanation that can be made with regards to Bulent. This is an unacceptable situation,” Aydas said.
Press organizations react
Journalist organizations are concerned that the pressure on the media will increase. The arrests of journalists within the scope of the coup investigation who criticized the government before July 15 could further silence the media. Reporters Without Borders Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu believes that the coup investigation could turn into a mechanism of revenge against critical journalists.
The Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) and the Journalist Union of Turkey (TGS) released a joint statement warning that the rights violations brought on by the decision to detain a high number of journalists could further erode freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The International Press Institute (IPI) is also concerned, saying in a recent statement it was worried the recent wave of detentions is only the first of multiple.
This week a high number of media organizations alleged to be close to the Gulen community were shut down under the scope of the state of emergency declaration. Three news agencies, 16 TV channels, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses have been closed. Among them is the Zaman newspaper, which was being run by the state after its seizure earlier this year.