The need to protect the rights and dignity of ordinary journalists
Former US president Barack Obama warned at the 16th Nelson Mandela Lecture in Johannesburg this year that many states have no regard for human rights and instead prioritize their commercial interests. Obviously, the fundamental rule of international relations is the interests of states. The same Obama met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seven times and spoke with him by phone on 15 occasions in 2012. They spent time discussing their daughters but there is no evidence that the then US President has ever raised human rights or press concerns in any of his meetings with Erdogan.
But what about regional or international human rights courts and the well-funded global NGO’s? Do they really extend a hand to “ordinary” journalists or media personnel? It was shocking that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has rejected around 25,000 applications from Turkish citizens in relation to rights violations after the July 2016 coup attempt. Turkey’s leading human rights advocates and parliamentarian Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu accused the ECHR of being a commercial organization which signed the agreement with Turkey’s ruling AKP.
I am personally surprised by Belgian Foreign Minister Didier J.L. Reynders’ blunt answer to a question raised at a DIRCO press conference about Turkish teachers who were kidnapped last week in Moldova and, prior to that, Kosovo while being under United Nations protection. Why did the European Union fail to prevent such human rights violations and allow illegal and unlawful operations of the Turkish Intelligence service in Europe? Reynders certified Obama’s claim of the reversal of the gain of freedom and democracy by saying that, Europe needs to balance relations with Turkey and allow the courts to deal with these types of kidnappings. This means that Turkey stops refugee flows from Syria, and European states need to prioritise the migration problem before protecting the lives of Turkish citizens.
The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) follows “the certain methodology” and does not recognise many jailed media members as journalists and does not assist them. Turkish authorities concede that there are many journalists in jail but not because of journalistic activities. The CPJ does not accept that the biggest problem is the Turkish Penal Code which contains 30 laws restricting freedom of speech in Turkey, including Article 301 which pertains to the violation of “insulting Turkishness.” This effectively means that, if anyone from a student to a journalist or a housewife, criticises the government, they can be easily arrested and prosecuted.
Hundreds of journalists are in jail because of the Anti-Terror Law. This law sees journalists as enemies of the state. According to CPJ’s 2012 report, 30 percent of journalists jailed in August 2012 were accused of taking part in anti-government plots or being members of outlawed political groups. Since the 15 July Coup attempt, Turkish courts have convicted and issued warrants of arrest for hundreds of journalists based on this law. The Associated Press reported in 2011 that one-third, or 12,897, of all terrorism-related convictions worldwide since the 9/11 attacks were handed down by Turkish courts. Freedom House, IPI, WAN-IFRA, CPJ, European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and many other institutions spent large resources to study and prepare reports on Turkey, but when it comes to helping victimized journalists, they buy the Government’s propaganda.
Turkey’s well-respected EU expert and journalist Selcuk Guntasli reported that many media institutions discriminate against journalists based on ideology and social class in Turkey. Guntasli highlighted that despite the fact that 124 journalists (out of 150) imprisoned are former Zaman colleagues or Kurdish journalists, EPJ barely mentioned them and mainly opts to assist those journalists from the secular elite class. Obviously these double standards render many journalists helpless. This is evidenced by calls from journalists such as Ufuk Sanli who was arrested and jailed during the aftermath of a failed coup. Sanli says he wants press organizations not to forget him.
International press institutions or rights bodies are very well aware that human dignity or rights no longer exclusively belong to diplomats or social elites. Much of this is due to German Philosopher Immanuel Kant, who formalised the inherent dignity concept two centuries ago. In our modern time, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) both state that all human rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person. However, in the practical world, nothing has changed much since ancient times, as human dignity is still given to social elites, who largely benefit from NGO’s. In the international sphere, this concept of dignity is given to the status of ambassadorial and consular staff serving their countries abroad. This may be part of the reason why Turkish diplomats abuse diplomatic immunity and label critics of Erdogan as terrorists.
Recently, the New York-based Writers and Journalist Foundation released the report titled “Death in Custody- Right to Life in Turkish Prisons” and called on the international community to address human right violations. They strongly urged Turkish authorities to ensure the right to life of persons within their jurisdiction. The UN, Council of Europe and other international and regional mechanisms show very weak responses for hundreds of thousands of victims of the Coup and are not taking concrete action after WJF’s findings.
According to the report, by the end of August 2017, six hundred sixty-eight (668) children under the age of six were deprived of their liberty across Turkey with their mothers, detained or arrested as part of AKP’s crackdown on the Hizmet Movement. Only one woman participated in the attempted coup but 17,000 women are still in jail without indictment. Turkey released 38,000 prisoners, convicted of rape, fraud, theft, looting, extortion and other serious crimes in order to make room for the wave of journalists, teachers, lawyers, civil servants and judges detained after the coup attempt. Western states condemned these mass arrests and human rights violations in Turkey but when Erdogan jails Europeans, the same governments expend great effort to rescue their citizens. European government efforts to protect their citizens are very understandable, but what is sad is that international human rights bodies and NGO’s discriminate against Turkish victims.
Thanks to social media, which reflects global conscience, it seems that genuine people who listen to their conscience are true defenders of their fellow human beings’ rights and dignity. As a journalist who lost his job, I have not received any help from local or international human rights bodies or media institutions, but nonetheless remained motivated to continue my critical writings after witnessing the supportive “letters to editor” of readers who are aware of the injustices taking place in Turkey. As ancient Philosopher Diogenes replied to the Alexander’s offer to fulfill a wish for him by saying, “Stand out of my light,” journalists better not waste time with internationals bodies as sometimes they worsen the life of victims.
Turkmen Terzi is a Turkish Journalist based in South Africa and hold master’s degree of Philosophy from University of Johannesburg.