Thursday, January 5, 2012

Two Journos Who Played with Fire

PHOTO from The New York Times

The New York Times gave coverage yesterday to the issue of press freedom in Turkey in light of the ongoing trial against journalists Ahmet Şık (use Turkish letters when spelling!) and Nedim Sener (click here for past post). Both are world renown journalists, and Sener, in 2010, won the International Press Institute's World Press Hero award.

Both men have been in prison for 309 days since their arrest in March on charges of being "terrorists" affiliated with the shadowy Ergenekon network. They are being tried by an Istanbul court along with eight journalists in the employ of Oda TV. The charges against the journalists stem from a file that police reportedly found on a computer at Oda TV's offices, but which defense lawyers and expert witnesses say were electronically planted using malware. The file tied the journalists to the shadowy Ergenekon network, alleged to constitute the "deep state" and be behind numerous attempts to overthrow the government. The court did task the Scientific and Technological Research Council (TUBITAK) with carrying out analysis on the computer disks at the center of the investigation. Another hearing is expected on Jan. 23.

Sener says his arrest is revenge for working to reveal the forces behind the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, which contrary to the charges against Sener, is thought to be the work of the deep state. Neither Sener nor Şık have anything in common with the ultra-nationalist ideology with which the Ergenekon network is associated -- both are devout leftists with a long history of writing and political activity.

At the time of Şık's arrest, the journalist was working on a book about the infiltration of members of the also shadowy Gulen religious network, which is headed by Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive cleric based in Pennsylvania who preaches a moderate version of Islam and whose ideas and influence have deeply penetrated Turkish state and society (for a foreign journalist's take on Gulen, see Financial Times reporter Delphine Strauss's take last April).

Gulen's intentions and influence in Turkish politics are widely debated, and he no doubt wields a great amount of power among elements of the ruling AKP government (for more, see past post). Indeed, tension between Gulenists and non-Gulenists in the AKP is speculated to run quite high and was on display last spring when Prime Minister Erdogan dismissed Zekeriya Oz, the prosecutor formerly responsible for the Ergenekon investigation, including the arrests of Şık and Sener; last fall when the AKP divided itself over a law aimed to reduce the penalty for fixing soccer matches; and in recent days, in coverage of the Uludere tragedy that has appeared in Zaman, which is owned by Gulen (for an example, see Aziz Istegun's analysis soon after the attack) and Gulen's declaration that the strike was coordinated by people intent to undermine "harmony."

The case has become a rallying cry in a country where, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) last April, at least 57 journalists are currently imprisoned (more than in China; the New York Times put the number at 97 in this report). The government has asserted that of these journalists are not in prison for anything they have written, but for being members of terrorist organizations, though the argument has failed to convince waves of protestors that have assembled since Şık and Sener's arrest, in addition to international critics (for the OSCE's report in April, click here).

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