After Istanbul will it be business as usual?

Not according to a recent briefing by CEFTUS, the UK based Centre for Turkish Studies who reported on 11 July that dissidents within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are on the brink of forming an alternative party which could deprive the government of its majority in Parliament.

CEFTUS reports that a founding member of the AKP has resigned, setting in motion the setting up of a new party. As former Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey responsible for the Economy, Ali Babacan built a reputation as a competent figure trusted by the country’s European allies and the markets. He is now understood to be in discussions with other ‘moderate’ AKP figures, including former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former President Abdullah Gul.

Rumours of a split from within the AKP have intensified since the AKP’s defeat in Istanbul last month, which sent shock waves through the ruling party showing that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was no longer a winner. This plus tensions within the party over Erdogan’s centralisation of power and the failing economy could represent a serious challenge to his authority.

That’s not to say that it’s been all change overnight. Journalists and others are still be dragged before the courts. But today there was some good news when the 13th High Criminal Court in Istanbul acquitted two journalists and a human rights activist of terrorism charges.

Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative for press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalist Ahmet Nesin, and Sebnem Korur Fincanci, chairwoman of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation, were arrested in June 2016.

The three defendants had been accused of spreading terrorist propaganda for their work with a Kurdish newspaper, which has since been closed down. But the three maintained they were defending free speech amid a clampdown by President Erdoğan.

Applause erupted in the courtroom as the verdict was read out and the decision was welcomed by the IFJ/EFJ and any other press freedom organisations.

Earlier the European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ/IFJ) had called for their acquittal and release. Erol Önderoğlu, was facing 14 years and six months in jail over “terror propaganda”. He was charged because of his participation in 2016 as temporary editor-in-chief to the production of Özgür Gündem daily newspaper as part of the Editors in Chief on Watch campaign.

The Editors in Chief on Watch was a solidarity action organised from May to August 2016 by the now-closed Özgür Gündem newspaper, a pro-Kurdish rights publication subjected to multiple investigations and lawsuits. Önderoğlu was one of the 56 prominent journalists and activists who acted as ‘editor for the day’ and published three articles in the daily on 18 May 2016. The campaign was intended to draw attention to the Turkish authorities’ long-standing attempts to put pressure on the publication and its journalists.

Meanwhile the National Union of Journalist’s national executive passed the following motion at its meeting last Friday:

“Journalism in Turkey

This NEC welcomes the release from prison in Istanbul of Ayşe Düzkan six months into her 18 month sentence for her bogus crimes as a journalist. This NEC notes with regret, however, that she is still being required to undertake unpaid ‘community payback’ style work.

This NEC notes that by publicising the case of Ayşe Düzkan, and involving branches in the campaign for her release, the NUJ successfully drew attention to the plight of journalists in Turkey. This NEC calls for this work to continue and asks the General Secretary and chair of the Policy Committee to identify another journalist jailed in Turkey that they union can ‘adopt’.

This NEC notes that Turkey is still the world’s biggest jailer of journalists and that President Erdogan’s assault on Turkey’s media continues unabated.

This NEC further notes and condemns the report by the Washington DC-based Foundation for Political Economic and Social Research, or SETA (a think tank with close links to Erdogan’s Justice And Development Party) that has publicly identified reporters working in Turkey for international organisations, and accusing them of bias against the government.

This NEC notes that the journalists named and condemned in the report include reporters from the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Eurovision as well as the Voice of America and others.

This NEC concurs with our sister union the Turkish Union of Journalists, which considers that the report illegally “recorded personal information” as well as “inciting people to hatred.”

The NEC calls on the General Secretary to ensure that campaigning to expose the terrible treatment of journalist in Turkey is a prominent feature in our campaigning on international matters.”

 

 

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