This blog post was written by my intern Zehra Kaya. She also did all the research.
The banned book of the imprisoned journalist Ahmet Şık is available in Turkish book shops starting tomorrow, 1 December. The unpublished version of the book was put online last March, with the title “The army of the imam” but will be published now as ‘Who touches it, gets burned’. Because the book was considered a ‘terror document’, Şık was arrested in March. He is being suspected of involvement in Ergenekon, an organization that allegedly planned a coup against the AKP government.
‘I think I’m being followed’, Ahmet said to his friend and colleague Alper Turgut last January. They both attended the commemoration of journalist Metin Goktepe, who was killed by police in January 1996. Şık told his friend about the book he was writing. ‘I felt he was anxious and nervous’, says Turgut. ‘That is not so strange, because Ahmet wrote about a subject that you can hardly touch in Turkey because it is surrounded by fire.’
Police as instrument
Alper Turgut, filmcritic for newspaper Cumhuriyet and board member of the Turkish union for journalists (TGS), and I are talking in a small bar in Istanbuls district of Kadiköy. He doesn’t care people around us are listening along. ‘Ahmet was investigating the infiltration of the Gülen movement in the police corps.’ Turgut calls the Gülen movement, that is lead by the preacher Fethullah Gülen and that has a lot of followers in Turkey, a ‘radical islamic movement’, and says: ‘I think it is a danger for democracy.’
‘I last talked to Ahmet when he was in Ankara for some interviews for his research’, says Irfan Aktan, a journalist at the magazine Express. ‘Ahmet didn’t keep his investigation a secret. He told me he found out that the police is used as an instrument for a new political order. De police chiefs who didn’t obey the Gülen movement, were fired, which was done in a way that was not legal’.
‘There were apparently people who didn’t like this investigation’, Aktan says. The prosecutor marked the book as “terror document” and publication was forbidden. According to Turgut the Gülen movement can not stand critics and it interferes ruthlessly when somebody gets in its way, which doesn’t actually fit islam, he says. The movement is supposedly a partner of the current government. That is supposedly also the reason the movement is powerful enough to interfere in a situation in which it is criticized. Turgut: ‘That’s the idea behind the title of the book. If you “touch” this movement, you will “burn’, meaning “get into trouble”.
Not a crime document
Aktan says it’s never nice for a writer when his book is published online unedited. Ahmets friends, who believe in his innocence, considered it necessary to share the book and decided to put it online. Ahmet was said to have a few potential titles for the book, for example ‘The army of the imam’, and ‘Who touches it, gets burned’. His friends chose the first title, so society could see it was not a crime document. Turgut: ‘The current title “Who touches it, gets burned’, sounds more logic now’.
After Şık was arrested, 125 journalisten, activists and academicians came together to edit his book and to sign it as support for Şık. This was kept a secret until 16 November, when the book was presented at the book fair TÜYAP in Istanbul.
‘We were afraid when we published he book’, Turgut says. ‘The book is forbidden, so at the book fair it could have been confiscated, and it still can be. And we can be prosecuted. But we wanted to do this. Everybody was silent so somebody had to speak out.’ According to Turgut this matter doesn’t only concern Şık but the whole society: ‘The freedom of speech is at stake here’. Aktan says the country is heading towards dictatorship if civilians can not express their opinions.
Why is the book edited and published now, and not sooner after Şık got arrested? ‘We are in a more calm period now’, explains Turgut. ‘The content of the indictment against Şık is known now, and it’s clear that there is no problem at all with the book. It’s funny that he is charged with planning a coup by writing a book. Is he going to overthrow the government with his pen? The indictment is included in the book, so everybody can see there is nothing special in it.’
Aktan and Turgut think the book must be read to judge whether it is a terror document or not. Irfan Aktan: ‘According to the prosecutor it’s a terror document, but when we read it, we don’t get the slightest impression that’s what it is. To see how unfounded the charges against Şık are, we want people to be able to read it.’
The book is still banned in Turkey and the people who publish it now, can still be convicted because of it. Aktan: ‘But if that is the price of the freedom of expression, I am willing to pay it.’
The next hearing in the court case against Ahmet Şık is on 26 December in Istanbul.