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Operation Sledgehammer

Jailing Journalists in Plot-Mad Turkey

by MICHAEL DICKINSON

In case you hadn’t heard of ‘Ergenokon’, it’s an alleged plot by a gang of ultranationalist secularists, who are accused of plotting to trigger a military coup to topple the ruling Islamic-slanted Justice and Develoment Party (AKP) in Turkey by fomenting chaos in society with assassinations and bombings.  It is also thought to be part of the “Deep State,” an alleged unofficial organization of bureaucracy and military operating behind the scenes of the official state structure.

The Ergenekon Investigation, or Operation Sledgehammer began in 2008, and so did the arrests, which have been growing ever since.   To date, 249 senior military officers and 3,500 Kurdish politicians and activists have been jailed.  And after 3,845 investigations against journalists, more than 100 are now in prison, accused of violating secrecy or being members of illegal terrorist organizations, conspiring against the government with the aim of overthrowing it.

In a written statement the Platform for Solidarity with Imprisoned Journalists said “Turkey has the highest number of arrested journalists in the world. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is abusing the anti-terror law.”

One such journalist, Soner Yalçın, a writer for an online news portal called Oda TV, known for its harsh criticism of government policies, was released on bail last week after 682 days in prison.  Pending trial, he has been slapped with an overseas travel ban and will be required to sign in at court on a weekly basis. Yalçın Küçük and Hanefi Avcı, the other two arrested suspects in the case investigating the alleged Ergenekon coup plot, were denied release. Authorities say the nationalist news website with which the journalists were connected was the media wing for Ergenekon.  They face up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

They were arrested during the ‘Oda TV Probe’, which began after law enforcement officials conducted a search of its offices in February last year. Also arrested as part of the Oda TV probe was former Police Chief Hanefi Avcıoğlu, who has written about the alleged infiltration of the police force by the Gülen community.  The suspects claim that incriminating documents found on their computers had been sent by viruses from outside by the religious Gülen movement. Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.  Some believe he secretly directs a number of Turkish bureaucrats, politicians, and journalists, as well as security forces, and had been behind the recently revealed bugging of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s office.  Gülen has been accused by some pro-government circles of having political ambitions.

Soner Yalçın called on the National Security Agency (MİT) and the Police Department to determine the perpetrators of the conspiracy.

“Who can be behind such a plot? Is it possible to stage such actions without having the support of the state intelligence?  We have been writing about them, that is why they trapped us by putting viruses on our computers,” he said, adding that the government also knew about “this center of evil.”

“What is missing is the political will to reveal this fact,” he said.  He called the current state of journalism in Turkey “vile”.

“Journalists should have said ‘stop there’ to the courts; what has saddened me is that I was charged for reporting, not for anything else,” he said. “How can you stand idly by such a case? How can you not protect the values of journalism, how you hold back from hitting the streets in protest?” he asked.

On release from prison in summer after being held for over a year for alleged connections to a terrorist group, journalist Ahmet Şık said:

“Around 100 journalists are currently serving time in prison, but freedom of expression is not merely a problem for journalists in this country. There are currently about 600 university students behind bars and over 6,000 under arrest in the KCK(Kurdistan Communities Union) trials.  We are going to keep waging this struggle.”

“To silence journalists is to silence the people. It is journalism that is on trial here, and the principle of confidentiality of the news source that is being stamped out.  The police, prosecutors and judges who executed this conspiracy will later enter this prison. I make a vow for this.”

Leader of the main opposition, Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said “This country’s prisons should not be home to writers, intellectuals and students who demand free education.  Such an injustice might change its direction to target you in the near future. From wherever or whomever it is coming, injustice is injustice and should be met with a collaborative resistance by the whole intelligentsia and patriots of this country.”

The European Union and the United States have expressed concern over the apprehension of journalists in Turkey.

Meanwhile, political journalist Mustafa Balbay has completed his third year “under arrest” in jail – as yet convicted of no crime.

It may be true that the pen is mightier than the sword, but it takes a brave writer to wield it against the state in Turkey.

Michael Dickinson can be contacted at his website: http://yabanji.tripod.com/id18.html