Last month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a rare press briefing for journalists in the country's media capital, Istanbul. In his opening remarks, Erdogan said that freedom of the press was of "vital importance" to him.

It was a statement that failed to square with the facts, let alone the numbers. Because for each of the last three years - ever since July of 2016, when an attempted coup failed to depose the president - Turkey has imprisoned more journalists than any other country.

For all of those jailed, however, the government has prosecuted a much longer list of media workers whose fates still hang in the balance. It's a state of limbo that has driven many of the accused into exile, to seek asylum abroad.

The Listening Post's Flo Phillips spoke to three Turkish journalists - all former editors at newspapers critical of the ruling AK Party - who have fled the country to avoid the prison terms that almost certainly awaited them.

Can Dundar was one of the most prominent newspaper editors in Turkey. He ran Cumhuriyet - a centre-left, secular paper that routinely investigated and took on the ruling government.

For the last three years, he has been living in Berlin. He came to Berlin after spending time in a Turkish prison for publishing a story exposing illegal arms support - weapons the Turkish intelligence services were providing fighters in Syria.

Dundar was sentenced to almost six years behind bars for revealing state secrets, but not before an Erdogan supporter fired two live rounds at him outside the court, missing both times.

Asked why he chose exile over remaining in Turkey to fight his appeal, Dundar explained that he had "lost trust in the Turkish judiciary."

"After the military coup attempt, Erdogan changed the whole system. The first thing he has done was to arrest the high judges who decided for our release. So they are still in jail. Without independent justice really you can't defend yourself. So that would have been to put in my head into the guillotine," he said.

Newspaper Zaman was among the more than 100 media outlets shut down during the government's purging of civil society following the attempted coup of 2016. Zaman's ties to the Gulenist movement - followers of the Islamist leader Fethullah Gulen whom the government blamed for the insurrection - made it an obvious target.

Yet for Mahir Zeynalov, former Online Editor for the paper's English-language edition, Today's Zaman, his troubles with the government - as with those of Can Dundar - preceded the coup.

"On the 25th of December, 2013 I wrote an article about the corruption case which targeted President Erdogan," Zeynalov told The Listening Post, from his new home in Washington, DC. "And on that day President Erdogan pressed charges against me, seeking up to six years in prison."

For Zeynalov, the corruption allegations against the president constitute one of several taboo topics which Turkish journalists broach at their peril. "Another", he says, "is the Kurdish issue."

Cagdas Kaplan, former editor of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Yeni Yasam, was one of 32 Kurdish journalists arrested back in 2011, and served a year in jail. He had reported on alleged human rights abuses by Turkish government forces against the country's Kurdish minority.

At the time of his departure for Athens earlier this year, Kaplan faced another 20-25 years behind bars. In his view, the only prospect for a resurrection of press freedom in Turkey is a fight-back by the journalists themselves.

"We have to fight for it, just like our other rights. We have the power to dig up these fundamental rights from the grave. But we can only do that by resisting, otherwise, it's impossible."

Mahir Zeynalov - editor, The Globe Post & former online editor, Today's Zaman
Can Dundar - editor, Ozguruz & former editor, Cumhuriyet
Cagdas Kaplan - reporter, Yeni Yasam

In Ankara's defence: An interview with Cem Kucuk


In Turkey, journalists who have tried to report critically on the Erdogan government have frequently found themselves on the wrong side of the law, described as 'terrorists' by the Turkish state.

We requested interviews with a number of senior government officials to discuss those cases - we tried the President's Director of Communications, his spokesperson, his special adviser, but none of them agreed to speak. 

So we asked for an interview with Cem Kucuk, an Erdogan loyalist and a prominent face on the privately-owned TV channel, TGRT.

He spoke to us regarding certain statements made by President Erdogan and some of his closest advisors, about the media.


Cem Kucuk - presenter, TGRT

Source: Al Jazeera News