Turkish journalists: Şık and Şener

In March 2011, two prominent investigative journalists were arrested in Turkey because of their alleged ties to a terrorist organisation. Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener faced 15 years’ imprisonment if they were convicted, write Funda Ustek and Irem Kok.

The case

In March 2011, two prominent investigative journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were arrested because of their alleged connection to the Ergenekon terrorist organisation – the subject of largest judicial investigation on so-called “deep state” relations in Turkey’s history. On the morning of 3 March, police searched their residences and collected all their personal archives, computers and CDs. The state prosecutors charged the two journalists with membership of an armed organisation (Article 314/2), aiding and abetting an illegal organisation (Article 220/7), propaganda for an illegal group (Article 7/2), violating the legal confidentiality of an investigation (Article 285) and trying to influence the result of a trial (Article 288) all under the Turkish penal code.

Electronic copies of Şık’s unpublished book Imamin Ordusu (The Imam’s Army), based on the investigation of the Gülen Movement – Turkey’s most influential Islamic brotherhood network led by Pennsylvania-based imam Fethullah Gülen – were seized by police as an “illegal organisational document”. The book discussed links between the Gülen Movement and the Turkish police force, which was interpreted by the prosecutors as a piece of “propaganda” that proved Şık’s connection to the Ergenekon. As a result, all copies of Şık’s book were confiscated by police, before it was even published. On 11 April 2011, electronic copies of draft book were leaked online through an anonymous website and widely circulated via social networks such as Twitter and personal email addresses containing the link.

Şener, a winner of the Institute for Free Press award that comes with the title of World Press Freedom Hero, is known for his two books on the murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and for criticising the Turkish government’s lack of transparency during the investigation. Similarly, Şener’s journalistic writings were taken as a proof of a connection to the Ergenekon organisation. Şık and Şener are still under detention and face 15 years’ imprisonment if convicted for allegedly being members of Ergenekon’s media network. On 17 November 2011, Şık’s book was published by Posta Yayinlari/Posta Publishing House along with the signatures of 125 writers showing their support.

After 375 days in prison, Şık and Şener were released on bail on 12 March 2012. Sik now faces additional charges of “threat” and “defaming civil servants for their duties” for comments he made immediately after his release. His new trial is set for 13 September 2012.

Author opinion

We think it is wrong to arrest journalists and confiscate their published or unpublished works in the name of national security. We believe such acts violate freedom of expression and allow for the prosecution of thoughts or research when they are not in line with powerful political parties and/or the government. These acts serve as a deterrent to journalists; the message they send is loud and clear: to avoid prosecution, do not investigate the government’s misdemeanours or attempt to shed light on the darker side of politics.

However, if we do not have a free press, we cannot make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life. What is more, if all investigations that expose the government in some way were challenged on the grounds of national security, citizens would lose their agency as determinants of democracy in their respective countries.

- Funda Ustek and Irem Kok

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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