The constant persecution of journalists and restrictions placed on the media in Turkey were discussed last week at an event at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Over a year since the failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016, more than 9,000 Turkish academics, writers, journalists and freedom fighters have been prosecuted in Turkey. Hundreds of them remain in custody.
The panel was led by Murat Sabuncu, whose father – former editor-in-chief of the newspaper Cumhuriyet – is currently being detained by the Turkish government.
Sabuncu said: “Turkey has become the world’s biggest jail for journalists. They revoke passports and cancel visas. Turkey accuses journalists of supporting terrorist groups.”
The panel event, organised by Goldsmiths’ student society English PEN, also included activist and member of the Turkish-Kurdish community Çağdaş Canbolat, and the journalist Steve Sweeney, who has travelled to Turkey on many occasions.
Canbolat drew attention to the similarities between Erdoğan’s government and that of the late 1980s, explaining that today he sees the same restriction of the media and freedom of speech seen in the period following the coup of 1980.
“History is repeating itself, ” he said. “Academics, educated people are leaving Turkey because they are scared. The same happened in the late ’80s.”
He said that when these people leave Turkey, they join campaigns against Erdoğan’s regime.
Underlining the need for a “democratic revolution” in Turkey, he said: “The only way for democracy in Turkey is for Erdoğan to go.”
Sweeney explained that press suppression in Turkey also concerns foreign journalists working there. He spoke of the experiences he has had in Turkey and the time he was detained while working for the Morning Star newspaper. Sweeney said that Turkish police once made him pose with a weapon and took photos after detaining him near the Turkish border with Syria. He said that the next day the photos were published in pro-Erdoğan newspapers.
Speaking of the shift in Turkey’s political system, Sweeney added: “In a democracy, it is alright to criticise your government. However, being a journalist in Turkey has become a crime. Democracy is under attack.”
Sweeney went on to criticise the British government, the European Union and the United Nations, accusing them of staying silent and doing nothing in order to help the Turkish people or to stop the prosecution of innocent people in the country.
He furthermore argued that UK arms sales to Turkey play a part in prolonging this silence.
Ending the panel on a positive note, Sabuncu said that it is encouraging that Turkish citizens all over the world have started opposing Erdoğan’s regime.
He added: “We cannot expect the international community to care for democracy in Turkey if we as Turks we are doing nothing about it.”