Further signs of regression in press freedom

The fact that the government is stalling on Turkey’s reform process is something EU officials are bringing up on a daily basis today. But it is not just that the reform process has stalled. There are also signs of serious regressions taking place, which should be of great concern for those who believe in democracy and the importance of the freedom of expression for this country.

The case involving government intimidation of the Dogan Media Group is well known at this stage.

It took some time for EU officials to come around to understanding the gravity of the matter, but this issue, which raises questions about just how serious the government is concerning a seminal matter like the freedom of the press, is now under scrutiny by the EU Commission.

The latest case that shows just how badly Turkey is regressing as far as the question of freedom of the press is concerned involves a journalist from the influential daily Milliyet.

Nedim Şener, a highly successful investigative journalist from the paper, is now facing two trials in which prosecutors are seeking a total of 28 years in prison for a book he wrote.

The book titled "The Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies" concerns the killing of Hrant Dink, the editor of the Armenian language newspaper Agos. In the book, Şener highlights serious negligence by the intelligence officers of the police force in Trabzon, where Dink’s killer, Ogun Samast, is from.

Şener is being charged, on the instigation of the intelligence officers he names in his book, with "targeting persons who have taken part in the fight against terrorism, revealing secret information, and trying to divert the course of justice."

The prosecutor is seeking a total of 20 years for these charges. In addition to this case, another case has been brought against him on the grounds that he has "insulted organs of the state," and the prosecutor is seeking an additional eight years for this.

The grotesque irony here is that the total sentence being sought for Şener is more than the 20 years that is being asked for Ogun Samast, who is accused with the murder of Dink.

But the irony does not end there in this Kafkaesque case, where the state is showing its teeth, in a blatant attempt to "protect its own" and coming down with the full force of its weight on a journalist in a manner that belies every claim that Turkey has made great strides in the area of the freedom of the press.

An official report prepared and presented to Prime Minister Erdoğan, by a group of investigators attached to his office, also corroborates Şener’s claims.

According to this report the officers in question were seriously negligent since they had sufficient intelligence to act on in order to try and prevent the murder of Dink.

But no charges have been brought against these officers for this. They are merely the subjects of an internal investigation by the Interior Ministry, even though there is enough evidence to merit a case of criminal negligence.

In the meantime eight gendarmerie policemen from Trabzon are being tried for negligence, and the prosecutor wants a mere two years in prison for them.

Put another way, the intelligence officers Ğ who could have prevented this murder had they done their job properly Ğ appear to enjoy legal immunity, even though an official report from the Prime Minister’s own office indicates that they were negligent.

On the other hand a journalist who said the same thing as the official Prime Ministry report in a book he published is facing nearly 30 years in prison, not because be maligned or slandered anyone, but because he wrote the truth.

And then there are government officials going to Europe and explaining to their interlocutors there that Turkey has made great strides in the area of the freedom of the press. Who they hope to convince remains a mystery.
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