2011-03-07 "Climate of Fear" heating up in Turkey: More journalists arrested

Over the course of the past 2 days, a Turkish court has reportedly ordered a writer and 6 journalists to be remanded in custody for alleged membership in an anti-government terrorist organization (Ergenekon). Odatv.com reports that a total of 15 journalists who write for the Turkish anti-government web site have been detained as a result of the "Odatv raid," which apparently revealed connections with Ergenekon. Yet Odatv reporters insist that the relationship between the suspects and Ergenekon is one of friendship and not active involvement.

The current Turkish government, in power since 2001 and led by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), claims that Ergenekon is one of many terrorist organizations aiming to overthrow the AKP by force. Approximately 400 suspects are already on trial for suspected ties to the Ergenekon coup and similar anti-government coups. Since 2007, AKP government authorities have been rounding up suspects perceived as secularist or anti-Islamist, having questioned, detained and jailed writers (including fiction writers), professors, editors, military officers (including 4-star generals) and others.

The leading prosecutor for the Ergenekon investigation, Zekeriya Oz, said in a statement Sunday that the investigation is confidential and the recent arrests are not related to the suspects' journalistic work, having nothing to do with "their writings or their planned writings or books".

The AKP's actions, coupled with its history of censorship, however, is raising suspicions with Human Rights Watch and others.

Two other journalists, Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, have spent two years and two-and-a-half years in prison respectively during their ongoing trial on charges of Ergenekon membership.

"In the absence of evidence that the police have credible reason to think Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener are responsible for wrongdoing, their arrests are a disturbing development," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It raises concerns that what is now under investigation is critical reporting rather than coup plots." (Source)

In February 2009, police arrested approximately 30 people on the basis of similar allegations, including 8 army officers, a police chief and 9 police officers. This past February, 3 Oda TV (Söner Yalçın, Barış Pehlivan and Barış Terkoğlu) journalists were detained and jailed, pending trial on various charges relating to alleged Ergenekon involvement.

Critics of the AKP, including demonstrators who gathered on Sunday at the apartment of Ahmet Şık (arrested Sunday), deny that the suspects have partaken in illegal activities and insist that the recent actions of the AKP constitute a clear instance of political oppression. Many believe that the ongoing investigations are part of a campaign to discredit the military, which is extremely secular, relative to the religiously conservative AKP.

Others, including academics and independent journalists, are said to "have welcomed the investigations as part of an overdue process of strengthening democracy, the rule of law and civilian control over the armed forces."

Independent sources at 2 major Turkish universities have said that some detained individuals were likely directly associated with anti-government coups planning violent attacks, but that most of the individuals detained and arrested are likely innocent.