FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Joker Rules: the Crackdown on Press Freedom in Turkey

by

This interview was published in the Istanbul daily BirGun, on 25 March 2016. Onur Erem the journalist interviewing Tariq Ali has already been charged in court with insulting the leaders of the state, but the Judge ruled that the reference to Erdogan as a ‘tinpot dictator’ by Tariq Ali was within the limits of political debate. However, referring to the Prime Minister Davutoglu as a ‘joker’ was ruled unacceptable. Erem could face 14 months in prison, but he has appealed and is awaiting a final ruling. Meanwhile, newspapers are being banned by the regime and journalists harassed and imprisoned. Turkey is a member of NATO and currently being paid billions by the European Union to keep the Syrian refgugees and not let them travel to EU countries. This helps to explain the lack of outrage against the targeting of Kurdish towns and villages and the assaults on all critics of the decaying Erdogan regime. — The Editors.

Onur Erem: Prime Minister Davutoglu keeps saying that press freedom is their highest priority while we’re getting these absurd court cases. His declarations are nothing but a joke, but we’re not allowed to call him a joker. Jokers were important figures in palaces, as Davutoglu is, in Erdogan’s palace. Can you explain why you call him a joker and comment on his relationship with Erdogan’s palace?

TARIQ ALI: I think the judge who decided that Davutgolu can not be referred to as a joker must secretly be on our side. Otherwise, the judgement makes no sense at all. It exposes the country to ridicule.

I referred to him as a “joker” because he does not strike me as a serious politician, but a placeman who does what he’s told and does it badly. But don’t make the mistake of comparing him to the court jesters in the courts of medieval Europe and Asia. The court jester was distinguished for speaking truth to the ruler, albeit in a humorous fashion. The jester could say what the courtiers could not and, in fact, many depended on him to be courageous. It would have been so much better if Davotgulu had behaved like a medieval jester, but no such luck for poor Turkey. Its Prime Minister is not taken seriously by too many people.

Onur Erem: For a comparison of freedom of expression in two countries, what would happen to you in UK, if you had called Cameron a joker?

Tariq Ali: Nothing. I’ve called him worse things than that….and a former Prime Minister Tony Blair is widely referred to as a war criminal.

Onur Erem: Although there are decisions of the European Court of Human Rights which says that  journalists can’t be put on trial because of what their interviewees say, Turkish courts are sentencing journalists because of their interviews. As you are also a journalist, can you evaluate the effect on the media of this kind of court practice, from a journalist’s perspective?

Tariq Ali: The obvious result will be to stop interviewing people who have something to say. Journalists will become more careful, though one solution is not to publish names of journalists doing the interview. The Times of London never published names of its staff in the old days and The Economist still doesn’t. Only the Editor knows. That might be one response as long as you have a tough editor prepared to resist government bullying and intimidation.

Onur Erem: The government is expecting journalists to censor the criticisms of the interviewees – or they’ll get hit with a court case. What does this mean for freedom of expression? Would you give an interview to a journalist that you knew will censor your expressions and criticisms?

Tariq Ali:   No, I woudn’t. It would be a waste of time. Here again one could think of ways to defeat the censor. I could put up the answers on my Facebook page or website or Counterpunch. Your paper could publish the questions and refer readers to the CounterPunch website or something like that. In today’s world it’s not easy to suppress information. Technology has helped us a great deal.

Onur Erem: Five months have passed since our interview about Ankara massacre which killed 107, in the meantime the war in Kurdish regions have became more intense and there have been 3 other bombings in Ankara and Istanbul, done by TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons) and ISIS, killing dozens. Today people are afraid of walking in the streets and horror scenarios ranging from countrywide civil war to a coup d’etat are at are circulating. When you analyse the current situation in Turkey what do you foresee for the country?

Tariq Ali: Terror breeds terror. I am completely opposed to both state terror and those who respond in a similar way. The TAK is discrediting the Kurdish struggle for autonomy and socialism. There is NO justification for any group that associates itself with the Left to kill innocents and encourage suicide bombings. As for ISIS, we know where they come from. We know who has used them in the past. We know their sectarianism leads to killings. Here the Turkish state, like its NATO bosses, has helped to create a monster that it now claims to oppose. The situation in Turkey today is extremely troubling. A panic-stricken regime, desperate to divide the Kurdish population from non-Kurds because it feared the rise of the HDP, has helped to create a huge crisis in the country. Can it be ended while Erdogan remains in power? I don’t think so.

Onur Erem: Erdogan spoke after the last bombing in Ankara and said “If you’re not supporting us, then you’re supporting terror”. He ordered the government to pass a new “anti-terror” bill which targets journalists and academics that criticize him as “terrorists without guns” . He also recently cited Hitler’s Germany as a good example of an effective unitary presidential regime. When you compare the regime that he’s trying to build with the fascist regimes in history, what are the similarities and differences that you find?

Tariq Ali: Erdogan may not be a “joker,” but he is definitely a political plagiarist. His remark on terror that you quote comes straight from the mouth of George W. Bush after 9/11. But Erdogan wants to go beyond Bush by making critical journalism and critics in the academy illegal. What will be the difference between him and a military government? Very little. I read his remarks on the effectiveness of Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. Well, yes. But then the AKP would have to ban all other political parties, close down all critical newspapers, burn the books critical of the regime and gas the Kurds to death…the final solution of the Kurdish ‘problem.’ Somehow I don’t think he is about to do that. NATO would ask its Turkish component [the armed forces of Turkey] to take power long before that happened. What we are seeing in Turkey is a non-uniformed authoritarian regime led by a politician who has allowed power to go to his head and is behaving more and more like a despot. Sooner or later this will provoke political uprisings throughout the country as happened after Gezi.

Onur Erem: Are the any other comments that you’d like to make regarding Turkey, Erdogan, his relationship with EU or his Middle East policies?

Tariq Ali: The West (the US/EU bloc) and its media have barely covered the recent wave of repression in Turkey. The reason is simple. They are paying billions to Ankara to control and take back the refugees of the Syrian war. They are fearful that if they offend Erdogan he will use the refugees as a political weapon. So they keep quiet. Once again Western double standards are on full display.

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail