Turkey is at war with its journalists

Why is Turkey at war with its journalists? Is the country about to go the way of Egypt?

Time CNN World journalist, Pelin Turgut, and two of his friends were in the group of seven journalists arrested by the Turkish police in Istanbul and Ankara last week. Time CNN World reports that in the group were Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik who are respected and balanced journalists working for mainline Turkish publications.

They same two were initially charged with: ‘belonging to a terrorist organization and inciting the public to hatred’ as confirmed by their lawyers. The men are denying the charges, but are still under detention.

A clue to their detention, Time CNN World reveals, is that the men have been critical of the government and its backer, an allegedly influential Islamic sect headed up by a USA-based imam named called Fethullah Gulen. It is alleged that he control’s Turkey’s security forces.  Before he was arrested, Sener had been on trial for ‘ revealing classified information’  in a book where he claims that the Turkish security forces which he alleges were involved in the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, who died in 2007.  Sik’s book on the Gulen network, (The Imam’s Army) was about to be published when he was arrested and he had been warned: “Whoever gets near this [issue] burns”.  Last week detentions followed raids on a newsportal’s offices – ODatv. Four of its journalists had been arrested. The newsportal has been critical of the government.

US Ambassador to Ankara, Richard Ricciardone said: Journalists are being detained on the one hand while addresses about freedom of the speech are given on the other. We do not understand this”. However, his comments were derided by the Turkish government, with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan referring to him as being ‘amateurish’. The government is refusing to make any comments on the detentions.

In 2009, the news group, Dogan, which was critical of the government got a 4.8 billion lira ($3.05 billion) tax fine after it reported alleged corruption matters to do Mr. Erdogan’s party. “Young reporters are now intimidated to ask certain questions of the Prime Minister and some ministers,” says Murat Yetkin, a commentator for the Radikal newspaper. in Turkey. Additionally, Mr. Erdogan has taken many cartoonists and journalists to court for defamation and has orchestrated the banning of thousands of websites deemed to be ‘anti-government’ including: YouTube, Vimeo and Blogger.

Sounds like Egypt all over again, but Mr. Erdogan should be worried, Turks do not take very kindly to effrontery and overt authoritarianism may well suffer the same fate as Egypt’s now departed former dictator.

[Answar Tashib, Middle East Contributor]

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