Press in Arrest is a commitment to a reinvigorated freedom of press by exercising observation, documentation and strengtening the collective memory of journalists trials in Turkey. Through our work, we intend to facilitate a healthy functioning freedom of press, opinion and expression that incorporates the rights to information.
Today the whole world knows that Turkey is one of the biggest prisons for journalists. Areas of rights and freedoms in the country shrink by the day. Hence performing ethical, professional journalism is systematically hindered, which directly restricts the public’s right to access information. Obscurantism has become a tool of suppression.
One of the main criteria to exercise rights and freedoms in a healthy way is enabling journalism practices in line with its international professional principles. In Turkey, however, for a long time now, many obstacles have been rising before the professionalism required for performing ethical journalism. Investigations, detentions, imprisonments and months or even years-long trials constitute the pillars of these obstacles. Many journalists spend their time in the corridors of the courthouses instead of chasing stories. There isn’t a single day, when at least one journalist does not sit in the defendant’s seat. Many other journalists who have not got a case against them yet, have been treading the corridors of courthouses to defend journalism and/or support their colleagues. Moreover, these trials are spreading to almost all cities of the country. These detentions and proceedings, which are rendered instrumental by the political power, constitute a perpetual threat not only to those on trial, but also to all journalists, as if the sword of Damocles. This atmosphere of fear takes the whole press under its influence and triggers a concrete censorship and self-censorship.
The repressive policies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government under President Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership towards the media organisations and journalists that are deemed critical and/or dissident, have transformed into a wolf trap, especially after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. With the state of emergency rule (SoE), declared amid the coup attempt and gained legal power by the decree laws, allowed many media outlets to be shut down. Thus, the already besieged plural voices of the press have been trapped in several small, funding-limited media organisations.
During the two-year-long state of emergency rule, at least 203 media outlets were shut down under decree laws. Almost all their assets were confiscated. The government increasingly resorted to bandwidth throttling and filtering, making many online news sources inaccessible. Hundreds of online news sites were subjected to access barriers; some of them were barred more than once.
In addition, few press organisations and their employees, who are still resisting for ethical professional journalism, are systematically targeted by investigations and trials as usual suspects. There is a process, in which the hegemony of the political power over the judiciary gradually intensifies. The government does not even feel the need to conceal its influence over the judiciary. The detained or jailed journalists and media employees as well as the shuttered media institutions are deprived of an effective and honourable judicial process. The censorship on web sites and social media is at unprecedented levels.
Press in Arrest, or Tutuklu Basın in Turkish, is a collective memory study by a group of journalists in Turkey, who have been observing and documenting the plentiful on-going trials of journalists in the country.
The observations, monitoring, research and documentation we have done in this study so far, reveal that prosecuted journalists have been subjected to disproportionate legal practices such as investigations as well as indictments based on mere journalism activities as evidence, over-long detentions, political accusations, even life imprisonments.
President Erdogan and his government figures in Turkey recite the same answer when asked about freedom of press and journalists on trial:
“No journalist is on trial in Turkey for journalistic activities.”
Yet all the proceedings, investigation reports, prosecutors’ indictments, accusations, evidence presented, and observation reports of the hearings, which were compiled and examined within the Press in Arrest documentation study, point the exact opposite of this recitation.
This recitation of the political power has been its prevalent attitude utilised to deliberately present information in an imprecise and recondite manner in many areas of life. It is designed to forestall further inquiry and understanding. It is used to cause polarization regarding practices of principled journalism, too. It damages the dignity and credibility of journalism as a profession in the eyes of the society, along with those who perform it. Since effective, ethical and independent journalism can barely be performed, the restriction of public’s right to information plays a non-negligible role in sharpening this polarization in society. And this sort of polarisation would only help authoritarian regimes to keep its grip on peoples.
By destroying the means to access unbiased, healthy knowledge; the government deliberately prevents the facts or full details of controversial matters from becoming known. This vicious circle that the government created by using the advantages of the political power, constantly deepens the crisis. The society, exposed to the singe narrative of the authority, is condemned to a false memory, lacking healthy knowledge.
The aim of this study is to uncover the truth concerning these judiciary proceedings against journalists and the media, in response to the official discourse that the political power has monopolized. Thus, the goal is to support the access to the rightful power of knowledge by compiling, documenting and publishing information and observations that are scattered, muted, and restricted. Another goal of the Press in Arrest study is both to pave the way for the public to have the right to be informed and to restore the damaged dignity of journalism.
In this context, Press in Arrest aims to share the reporting and documentation with the public by following all the proceedings of the journalists one by one, compiling the trial files and all public information, monitoring and observing all the proceedings, including the hearings.
Important note on the list of prosecuted journalists and the principles of the study
Press in Arrest, based on the internationally recognized journalism definitions, accepts those who work in this perspective as journalists. In this context, the list of the prosecuted journalists that are being documented through this work is also based on this idea, irrespective of the periodic political debates in the country.