Press freedom and the dirty tricks of the judiciary

There has been some good news this week when it comes to press freedom in Turkey: a total of four jailed journalists were released from jail after a court decision. At least, that seems to be good news. When you look at it a little bit closer, it’s only good news on a personal level. It’s great these men (two in the OdaTV case, two in the KCK press case) can go home again and are being united with their families, but for the rest, these releases seem to me more of a dirty trick by the judiciary.

In both the OdaTV case and the KCK press trial, people have been in jail for months, sometimes even more than a year. Without conviction. That is a huge injustice to begin with: you can’t lock people up for so long if there is no shred of evidence against them. For me, there is by definition no shred of evidence against people who are jailed for their writing, because writing should be free.

Calling for murder

In both of these cases, it goes even further than that basic principle: there is just really no evidence of the things they are being accused of. Zero. What they did, was write. They didn’t commit any crime in their writing, like calling for murder, and the prosecutor knows it too, because if there was, he would have prosecuted them for that and have a solid case and he wouldn’t have needed to go through all the trouble of making up evidence or framing totally innocent conversations and work related trips into something illegal.

Okay, let me take a breath.

This injustice makes people who follow the cases very eager on people getting released from jail. Even more so because trials in Turkey are not handled on a number of subsequent days, but are spread out over months. For example, in the KCK press case, the first hearing was this week, the next one is on 12 November. The former OdaTV hearing, in which famous defendant Ahmet Sik was released, was in March, and the next one was only now. So if the judge doesn’t set you free during a hearing, it automatically means you’ll be in jail another couple of months without conviction.

The heart of the matter

No wonder people get ultra happy when a defendant does get free, like this week Cagdas Ulus and Cihat Ablay (KCK) and Baris Pehlivan and Baris Terkoglu (OdaTV). But these releases are not acquittals, people are only being released pending trial, and that’s an important difference. It’s the dirty trick of the judicial system. One big injustice is being undone and draws away the attention from the bigger injustice of prosecuting these journalists in the first place.

How many journalists are in jail has become an important indicator of the state of press freedom in Turkey. What if all dozens of journalists that are still in jail at the moment, would be released tomorrow, like the four this week? Would that solve the problem? Of course not. PM Erdogan would showcase it as the evidence of total press freedom in Turkey. To get to the heart of the matter and to make sure these releases can’t be misused for political reasons, it should be counted how many court cases are pending against people who have only used their pens, whether they are jailed or not. That number is not going down. Not even with one.

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