Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is no longer effective or credible in the eyes of the general public despite having 95 percent of the country’s media under its direct or indirect control, journalist İnci Hekimoğlu told Mezopotamya Agency on Wednesday.
The remaining five percent of the media are still more credible and effective, she said. However, few opposition outlets have survived the government’s numerous crackdowns of legal and economic pressure, inflicted in the form of terrorism charges and advertising bans.
“For the whole world, social media is where people find out what is happening. This new bill is what they thought of as a solution to their discredited media. They want to shackle the remaining bits of media that people could get information from. The first act in this was the arrest of Kurdish journalists in Diyarbakır,” Hekimoğlu said.
Hekimoğlu was briefly arrested last week to face charges of terrorist propaganda, over years-old social media posts. Her arrest came a week after 21 Kurdish journalists were arrested in Diyarbakır (Amed), 16 of whom were later remanded in prison to face terrorism charges over the articles and videos they produced.
The arrested journalists’ camera equipment was used against them as supposed “evidence of criminal activity”, Hekimoğlu said. “What was worse is, some servants of the palace that call themselves journalists also simply presented things this way. … If they are looking for disinformation and manipulation, they could start there.”
Pro-government media has joined the government’s campaign to target journalists and incite violence against them, she added. “They incite, and they initiate lynchings. A journalist reporting on news is not a crime, but these acts of the palace-centric media are criminal.”
The new bill would allow pro-government media to “make fake news as much as they want, and target anybody they wish. By the hand of the police or judiciary, or militias if necessary, they will target televisions and newspapers to intimidate”, Hekimoğlu said.
Opposition politicians will also be affected by the bill, she said. “This is a period when only propaganda from the palace and its sycophants will be disseminated.”
The Kurdish journalists who were recently targeted and others like them have been integral in letting people know the truth, Hekimoğlu believes.
Twenty-three-year-old Kemal Kürküt was a student of fine arts who died after he was shot in his back by the police during Newroz celebrations in 2017 in Diyarbakır. The young man was arguing with the police, and had turned away to walk off when he was shot in the back by an officer. The police and governor’s office first said Kürküt was a suspected suicide bomber, until photos taken at the time of the shooting proved otherwise.
Photographer Abdurrahman Gök was the one who captured Kürküt, shirtless, with a bottle of water in his hand, clearly headed in a direction away from the crowds and the police. Gök captured the almost exact moment of Kürküt’s killing.
“If Gök had not taken those photos, even opposition media in the west would have believed the suicide bomber story. Even they do not research what is behind official stories most of the time. Those photos exposed a blatant crime. For that, Gök faced an investigation,” Hekimoğlu said.
In another instance she mentioned, in September 2020, villagers Servet Turgut (55) and Osman Şiban (50) were taken into custody in the eastern border province of Van (Wan), and were later revealed to have suffered torture in military custody. The pair had been thrown off a military helicopter after their time in custody. Turgut lost his life within the month, and Şiban suffered grave injuries.
Journalists who reported on the story were arrested and face terrorism charges. “However, those who did what they did to the villagers did not face any investigations,” Hekimoğlu said.
“It is these journalists in the region who will report on all the possible unlawfulness that could take place during the election period. So the government must silence them first,” she added. “They know from past experience that the western part of the country does not react to the silencing of Kurdish journalists. So they are relaxed.”
The country’s situation may be best understood from the outside, she added, as people living in Turkey have been deeply traumatised by “24/7 blatant physical, economic and psychological violence”.
“I’ve been a dissident journalist my whole life,” Hekimoğlu told Mezopotamya. She had followed the PERPA shooting, where Turkish security forces shot and killed five people from a far-left organisation in a raid on a cafe in the PERPA trade centre in Istanbul in 1993. “Even then my home was not raided. This time it was, highlighting how little of the law there is left,” she said.
“Any other country would spend years talking about one tenth of the traumatic events we experience in Turkey in 24 hours,” Hekimoğlu said. “Our news-cycle moves so fast, we are dealing with the whiplash.”
As the AKP’s 20th anniversary in power draws near, the government is now focusing on eliminating dissident media and opposition MPs, she added.
“This new bill will silence any and all who write the truth, and/or publish correct data. The government will try to direct public opinion as it wishes via the media channels they control. The coming days will bring harsher conditions, and I do not think the only method will be the law, the police, and the courts. There is probably a Plan C as well.”