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Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Sik has been in prison for two months, accused on terrorism charges for tweeting criticisms of the Erdogan-led Government. Today he made a rare venture back into the public eye - speaking as a defendant in a different trial

This is what he said

 
Investigative Journalist Ahmet Sik hugs his daughter at his trial today. He remains in custody (Credit: Sinan Karahan - Twitter)
 
 
Ahmet Sik 15 February 2017, Istanbul. OdaTv trial

Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Sik was brought in front of a judge today to defend himself in the OdaTv trial. This is part of an investigation which started in 2011 when he was first detained for a year, accused with membership of a clandestine terrorist organisation, which was later found out to be fictional.

He is currently in jail waiting for the indictment in another case.

On 14 December 2016, the prosecutor wanted Ahmet Sik and other 13 defendants to be acquitted on the grounds of lack of evidence.

Sik refused and asked for extra time to defend himself in front of the court for the last time. The judge had postponed the hearing to 15 February 2017.

 

This is what Sik said in court today:

“Turkey is a strange country and has experienced many absurdities before now. But there has never been an era where universal democratic norms are thrown out and re-defined to serve the benefit of an organised evil which currently encompasses the country.

"George Orwell’s '1984' is frequently used to describe today’s Turkey, but Orwell would turn in his grave today. If you find this an exaggeration, I will give you a couple of examples.

"I’ll start with the most recent events. The [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan-backed leadership] are trying to sell us a one-man dictatorship as though it is democracy.

"The referendum [on 16 April to grant Erdogan more powers over the legislative branch of power] will be held under unequal circumstances, where everyone is sure there will be fraud, and where a person is branded a terrorist if he says he will vote 'no'.

"And the [leadership] present this referendum to us as the 'will of the nation'. They did not hesitate to turn the country into a bloodbath when the July 2015 general election result threatened their power and the oligarchic system they represent. At the end of the [Kurdish] peace process, the whole country turned into a graveyard.

"They want us to believe this is an advanced democracy and that press freedom is in its best ever era, and they say they have freed us from chains. But national and international organisations tell us: 'Turkey is the biggest prison for journalists in the world'.

"In the last ten years, pro-government loyalists liberally used the terms 'coup' and 'plotter' very liberally. Every anti-government movement was a 'coup' and every dissident was a 'plotter'. In fact, the actual military regimes and coups were welcomed by political Islamists in Turkey.

"The Justice and Development Party (the Erdogan-backed AKP Party) is itself the biggest example of this paradox of the illusion of democracy. They represent the mentality of darkness, but their logo is a light-bulb. They turn the country into a republic paved with cement, while destroying the environment and natural resources, and they call it development. And this trial itself shows their understanding of justice.

"Two of my lawyers are not here today. And not just them. My colleagues Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gursel, Guray Oz, Turhan Gunay, Hakan Kara, Musa Kart and Onder Celik aren’t here either. They are in jail.

"When evil prevails, we need truth more than ever. Because when facts are written down, evil ceases to be the last word. Not speaking, not remembering and not allowing ourselves to remember is denying ourselves the truth.

"We [the journalists] were tried in courts because we refused to bow down to a government which has normalised totalitarianism. We chased the truth. The biggest legacy we inherited is the idea that saying what the powerful wants told is not journalism. The people who taught us this were or are still being punished with jail or exile. When this was not enough, they were silenced with bombs or bullets. The fight waged by the powerful against journalists in order to censor the truth has been going on since the dawn of journalism in this land.

"But this fight is futile. Because, whoever you are, you cannot fight an idea that has truth at its base. If you think you’re fighting it, you should know that you cannot win. You will lose again and again.”

The trial lasted eight hours. This was expected to be the last hearing in the case. The judge, however, annouced a further hearing for 12 April 2017.

As Ahmet was leaving the courtroom, he turned to his colleagues watching the trial and shouted:

“We will demolish this blockade.”

 

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Prominent Turkish journalist has been arrested over tweets

“If there was a free and fair judiciary, I would give you my testimony ... The failed coup doesn''t change the fact that there is a junta in power right now"

These words are from Turkish journalist Ahmet Şık to his Istanbul prosecutor following a charge of spreading ''terrorism'' through Twitter.

They are from yesterday.

Critics have called the prosecution of independent journalists in Turkey 'show trials'

 

Turkish authorities have now officially arrested Ahmet Şık, one of the country's most respected investigative journalists. 

He is charged with creating "propaganda for a terrorist organisation" and insulting the Turkish Republic, its judiciary, military and security forces.

The saga began at 5:56 on Thursday morning when 46 year-old Ahmet announced on Twitter: "I'm being detained. They're taking me to the prosecutor due to a tweet." 

 

 

Şık was then brought before a prosecutor and interrogated over his Twitter activity.

Several of his tweets are now being used as "evidence" that Ahmet created propaganda for the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation) and DHKP-C (Marxist-Leninist terrorist organisation).

The allegations, together with this grouping of organisations with contrasting and conflicing aims, is bizarre, as Şık has been one of the staunchest and most consistent critics of Gulen and his Islamist sect.

But like the so-called "evidence" against Şık, the prosecutorial line of questioning bordered on the farcical. 

At one point the prosecutor asked the journalist: “What did you mean by these tweets?” 

Şık’s lawyer, Tora Pekin, intervened, pointing out that it is the role of the prosecutor to first establish solid evidence demonstrating that Ahmet broke the law - instead of fishing for a response which could enable the journalist to incriminate himself.

Şık then refused to answer the prosecutor’s questions, declaring: “If there was a free and fair judiciary, I would give you my testimony.”

"The failed coup doesn't change the fact that there is a junta in power right now ... This [investigation] is an insult to my work ethics," he added.

The prosecutor presented the testimony to the Istanbul court yesterday (30 December 2016), and demanded Ahmet's arrest. Şık was brought before the Judge Atila Ozturk.

In his final defense, Şık said:

“I have been a journalist for 27 years seeking the truth. If I describe truth, the judge of my claims are the people, not the courts.

"I have no connection with any illegal organisations. I only stand against power. My aim has always been to disturb those in power, whichever party they come from. Because of this and because of my journalism, I have become the persona non grata of every era. This is a badge of honour for me. So actually, I do belong to an organisation, it’s called the truth. And my support is the people.”

The Turkish judicary has increasingly become a tool to silence critics of President Erdogan and to destroy the parliamentary gains of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), just as it was used to attack those who investigated the political influence of exiled-cleric, Fetulah Gulen, several years ago.

One of whom is Şık, who was previously jailed.

“The same thing happened to me five years ago. I was a target for the Gulenists," Şık told the judge.

"The same scenario is taking place again but by the Government this time. I would like to remind you that judges and prosecutors who put me in jail are themselves in jail now or they have fled the country. I want to remind you about this to show you that power is not permanent. It will not be permanent for those who are so arrogant now, because they’re drunk on power.”

Following Şık's statement, the judge called a recess. At around 7 pm he returned to the courtroom with his decision. It was unsuprising. Judge Ozturk stated that Şık showed no remorse for his actions and ordered his detention.

Şık’s lawyers said they will appeal.

The prosecutor will complete a full indictment and should inform Şık of a trial date.

According to the EU regulations accepted by Turkey, this process must be quick. Law experts state, however, that the state of emergency powers currently in place in Turkey since the attempted coup last July could mean that it is months before Şık and his lawyers are able to obtain the indictment and argue their case.

 
Turkey: "the biggest jail for journalists"

The charges against Ahmet stem mostly from his activity on Twitter. In recent weeks, he has criticised the Turkish government's arrest of Kurdish MPs and the state’s military operations in southeast of Turkey.

But the prosecutor also dredged up an interview with the head of the Kurdish Workers' Party (the PKK), conducted in March 2015 when the government and the PKK were in a ceasefire agreement, and two other reports for Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet.

Şık's remarks during a European Parliament workshop on press freedom were also used against him.

Ahmet is now held under the Turkish government's state of emergency powers, adopted following the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July this year.

This decree is being exploited by the state to jail dozens of journalists, academics and lawyers, as well as the closure of human rights organisations, such as the Ankara-based, Gundem Cocuk, an NGO fighting for the rights of children, who provided valuable data to The Black Sea during its investigation into child labour deaths in Turkey last year. 

According to a 2016 report by the Journalists’ Association of Turkey, in the last year 780 journalists had their press cards revoked, 839 journalists were brought before court over news coverage, and 143 journalists are currently in jail.

Turkey has the highest number of jailed journalists in the world. 

 
"Terror" tweets

Ahmet was arrested over several tweets he made between late November and early December 2016.

 

 

Tweet 1: "If Sirri Sureyya Onder is guilty of these charges, then don’t many people including the ones sitting in the [Presidential] Palace need to be charged too?"

Onder, MP for the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party with seats in the Turkish partliament, was detained in November for terrorism-related charges because of a photograph taken of him with a member of the PKK's media team.

The HDP, however, were part of the team negotiating a peace deal between the Government and PKK, which also including members of AKP - hence the questioning tone of Şık's tweet.

 

 

Tweet 2: "Instead of comparing people burned to death in Cizre and people blown up in Istanbul, why don’t you get angry about both of them? It's violence either way."

In February this year, 60 people burned to death in an apartment basement in Cizre, southeast Turkey, as they took shelter during Turkish army bombing campaign against the PKK.

The military claimed it "neutralised" several PKK soldiers, but others, including HDP members, said civilians were among those killed. 

Hence Şık's appeal to moral equivalence, which he makes at the same time as not condoning either terrorism or Government-backed arson.

 

 

Tweet 3 "Instead of arresting Tahir Elci [lawyer] they chose to murder him, you are a murderous mafia."

Elci was head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, and a human rights lawyer who defended the rights of Kurds in Turkey.

He was shot and killed in November last year moments before being due to issue a press statement calling for an end to the violence in the south east of the country. 

No one has been arrested for the assassination, but the family and some HDP members blame the Government.

 

A fierce critic of Gulen and Erdogan

Ahmet was previously jailed for 375 days in 2011, along with fellow journalist Nedim Sener.

They were accused of being members of a so-called terrorist organisation called "Ergenekon", which the AKP said was plotting to overthrow the Government. 

Ahmet's unpublished book, The Imam's Army, about the infiltration of Turkey's institutions by followers of Fetulah Gulen - blamed for the recent coup -  caused his prior arrest.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish government violated the rights of Ahmet and Sener.

Two years later, Turkey's supreme court quashed the Ergenekon convictions, stating that the prosecutor - who fled Turkey last year - failed to establish that the 'terrorist organisation' had ever even existed.

 

 

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Investigative journalist held in Turkey

"I''m being detained. They''re taking me to the prosecutor due to a tweet" Ahmet Şık

Turkish police detained investigative journalist Ahmet Şık at his home in Istanbul today, accusing him of creating "propaganda for a terrorist organisation" and insulting the Turkish Republic, its judiciary, military and security forces.

46 year-old Ahmet announced on Twitter at 5:56 this morning that: "I'm being detained. They're taking me to the prosecutor due to a tweet."

The charges stem from his activity on Twitter criticising the Turkish government's arrest of Kurdish MPs.

Also added to the mix is a 2015 interview with the head of the Kurdish Workers' Party (the PKK), considered a terrorist organisation by NATO and the EU, and two other reports in Turkish daily Cumhuriyet.

The motivation for the arrest also include remarks made by Şık during a European Parliament workshop on press freedom.

 

Ahmet has been held under the Turkish Government's state of emergency powers, which were adopted following the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July this year.

This decree has been used to jail dozens of journalists, academics and lawyers, and to shut down human rights' organisations. 

The use of emergency powers means Ahmet will be denied access to any legal services for the next five days.

His lawyer, Can Atalay, told the Turkish news website Bianet that "the police are not allowing us to see Ahmet with the excuse that the process is ongoing."

Atalay later confirmed to the BBC that he is banned from speaking to Ahmet.

 
"Terror" tweets

The Turkish Anadolu Agency, a state news organisation and mouthpiece of Turkey's ruling party, the AKP, reported that Ahmet was detained over three tweets he made between late November and early December 2016.

 

 

Tweet 1: "If Sirri Sureyya Onder is guilty of these charges, then don’t many people including the ones sitting in the [Presidential] Palace need to be charged too?"

 

Onder, MP for the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party with seats in the Turkish partliament, was detained in November for terrorism-related charges because of a photograph taken of him with a member of the PKK's media team.

The HDP, however, were part of the team negotiating a peace deal between the Government and PKK, which also including members of AKP - hence the questioning tone of Şık's tweet.

 

 

Tweet 2: "The war with the PKK, even though there have been pauses, has been going on since 1984. Instead of comparing people burned to death in Cizre and people blown up in Istanbul, why don’t you get angry about both of them?

 

In February this year, 60 people burned to death in an apartment basement in Cizre, southeast Turkey, as they took shelter during Turkish army bombing campaign against the PKK.

The military claimed it "neutralised" several PKK soldiers, but others, including HDP members, said civilians were among those killed. 

Hence Şık's appeal to moral equivalence, which he makes at the same time as not condoning either terrorism or Government-backed arson.

 

 

Tweet 3 "Instead of arresting Tahir Elci [lawyer] they chose to murder him, you are a murderous mafia."

 

Elci was head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, and a human rights lawyer who defended the rights of Kurds in Turkey.

He was shot and killed in November last year moments before being due to issue a press statement calling for an end to the violence in the south east of the country. 

No one has been arrested for the assassination, but the family and some HDP members blame the Government.

Hence the anger in Şık's Tweet.

 

A fierce critic of Gulen and Erdogan

Ahmet was previously jailed for 375 days in 2011, along with fellow journalist Nedim Sener.

They were accused of being members of a so-called terrorist organisation called "Ergenekon", which the AKP said was plotting to overthrow the Government. 

Ahmet's unpublished book, The Imam's Army, about the infiltration of Turkey's institutions by followers of Fetulah Gulen - blamed for the recent coup -  caused his prior arrest.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish government violated the rights of Ahmet and Sener.

Two years later, Turkey's supreme court quashed the Ergenekon convictions, stating that the prosecutor - who fled Turkey last year - failed to establish that the 'terrorist organisation' had ever existed.

 

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