Freedom is like air or water: something you appreciate only when it’s gone. Freedom for Turkish journalists was never as abundant as air or water–but nor was it ever as scarce as it has become in the last year.
Last July 15, a dangerous coup attempt occurred, unexpected and unsupported by the democrats in Turkey… But the democrats suffered as much as the putschists, since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seized the opportunity to put this failed attempt–which he called a “blessing from God”–to use as justification to pursue a witch hunt against all his opponents and to change the constitution, seizing all power.
Since July 15, 2016, some 150,000 people have faced criminal investigation, 50,000 have been arrested, and 70,000 civil servants have been dismissed. Nearly all opposition newspapers have been closed. Several have been placed under the state’s administration. More than 150 journalists and media workers have been arrested, in a campaign that has made Turkey the world’s largest prison for journalists. When the Committee to Protect Journalists last did its global census of journalists imprisoned around the world, Turkey held at least 81 in prison, more than any other country in any other year since CPJ began keeping records in 1992.
The result is silence, not only for those imprisoned but also for the rest who are still free. The climate of fear created by these arrests might have failed to silence some brave colleagues, but it has intimidated the majority of the media. It is now impossible to write, say, or ask anything that challenges the government. What we have witnessed is not only the obliteration of individual media outlets, one by one, but the obliteration of an entire profession.
Just as someone locked up in a cell tries to breathe through the tiniest gap, we too have sought alternative ways of telling the truth in this repressive environment. Some of us turned to social media, whereas others ventured to create media outlets in exile.
A skein of troubles
As luck would have it, I happened to be abroad on July 15, 2016. Taking my lawyers’ advice, I stayed in Germany, deciding to continue my work in journalism–something that was becoming increasingly impossible in Turkey. Hundreds of my colleagues were unemployed; I would join them to reach out to our viewers and readers in Turkey. Boldly would we give them the news that they could not receive otherwise.