Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Şık jailed

Zeynep Şentek

“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."

29 December Tweet from Ahmet Sik

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?"

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.

Ahmet Ahmet Cizre

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.

Ahmet Ahmet tweets

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.