There recently occurred one of those rare instances when a courtroom statement managed to verbalize important democratic truths. Turkish journalist Ahmet Sik, currently on trial on charges of “terrorism,” delivered a statement remarkable for its bravery and eloquence. Sik was arrested about seven months ago, and is on trial (along with 16 other journalists from the newspaper Cumhuriyet) for vague charges related to “undermining the government” and “sedition.” The trial comes in the wake of a sweeping crackdown by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has used his victory over a failed coup attempt last year to purge dissenting voices from journalism and academia.
The nationwide crackdown was supposedly focused on the followers of dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of having masterminded the coup attempt. But this seems to be little more than a pretext to silence any voice that is–or may be–critical of the Erdogan government. The journalists of Cumhuriyet, many of whom are respected professionals, have been accused of “acting in accordance with the goals” of terrorist organizations, and of publishing articles that “create internal turmoil and bring the country to an ungovernable state through manipulation and hiding the truth.” One has only to glance at the “charges” to understand what their motivation and purpose is. The real “crime” of Sik and his colleagues seems to be documenting the long (and now acutely embarrassing) relationship between Erdogan and Gulen.
The irony is that Sik has been a vocal critic of both Erdogan and Gulen. According to one reliable source:
State-run Anadolu news agency said Sik was also accused of spreading propaganda for the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and a group led by self-exiled US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of being behind the failed coup in July. Anadolu continued by adding that Sik was accused of insulting the state, the judiciary system, the military and the police.
Sik is a staunch critic of both Gulen and Erdogan, and previously served more than one year in prison after he wrote a book about Gulen and how his followers infiltrated the Turkish government. The book, “The Imam’s Army,” also looked into a plot by the so-called Ergenekon group trying to overthrow the Turkish government. Sik also worked for one of the few opposition newspapers still in operation following the failed coup.
Sik’s statement at his trial, delivered several days ago, is very much worth reading. In an era where journalistic integrity and freedom is under relentless attack by authoritarian individuals and organizations, his words are more relevant than ever. Below are the highlights of the speech. Readers should note that I have had to clean up the grammar and punctuation of the Pen International translation, but have otherwise left it untouched. The address is a masterpiece of political oratory; it should be read and studied by all who care about the freedom to express ideas without fear of repression.
It is worth it to ask questions about being left in the dark and saying “Controlled Chaos” to this situation. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is the target of the coup attempt, has spilled the beans by expressing his intention while the country was in the middle of bloodshed, and said “This coup is a blessing from God to us.” We have seen what “blessing” means and have witnessed it together and are still witnessing it. We pass through the dark and increasingly darker days, where those who voiced the truth, those who objected to the criminal order, those who demanded their usurped rights, are the voices being muted and strangled.
The coup was stopped, but all basic rights and freedoms were suspended by the State of Emergency.
Tens of thousands of people have been detained on charges of supporting the coup, and more than 50,000 arrested. Some people have been tortured. With Executive Orders, the state and the society have been accelerated in the direction of a Turkish-Islamic form. By the practices that justify their suspicions that the distinction between “those who are with us” and “those who are not” are considered as the only criteria, more than 110,000 public officials were purged. The gap created in the public sector, especially the basic organs of the state, such as security, judiciary and education, was filled with AKP [Erdogan’s] staff based on allegiance, not capability. The scientists who educated students for years, and teachers, have all been left unemployed by the ruling that they are “terrorists.”
If we add the journalists who are not in prison but are still “under arrest” through censorship and auto-censorship to the list, the picture we paint is even more pessimistic. Because of the dark shadow of censorship even though there exists many media organizations under the ownership of private investment groups, a single-voiced news broadcasting has taken over the country. On the TV channels which must do live broadcasts, even if President Erdoğan talks in his sleep, they cannot broadcast any political programs without the permission of government commissioners.
When the media is in this state, the only platform remaining for political criticism is social media. As long as the access is not blocked, as long as the internet is not cut off due to government censorship, and as long as you have not written anything to offend AKP’s internet trolls and informant citizens and prosecutors, then there are no barriers for you to use your right to criticize. However, there is no guarantee that you will not be arrested for using this right.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the Prime Minister of the period and he was stating that “Some books are more dangerous than a bomb.” For journalists held in prison, where he often sends them now, he says, “They are not journalists, but terrorists.” Certainly, we do not have such an expectation, but if Erdoğan had read, listened to and understood the relationship between books, writers and journalists instead of keeping it at a criminal level, most likely we would not be here today…History is ours, and people make history. Yes, history is on our side once again. So you will not be able to falsely create an illegal organization neither in the Cumhuriyet newspaper; and you will not make terrorists out of us.
You must have understood from what I’ve told you so far. What I say is not defense or expression. On the contrary, it is an accusation. Just because as it states at the beginning of this text “The Indictment” that prepares the legal cover of this political operation, does not legalize its shame that must be treated as trash. Just as some people who have their roles as judges and prosecutors before and after this political operation did not make themselves jurists.
This operation directed at us is nothing but a persecution aimed at the freedoms of thought and expression and the freedom of press; and some members of the judiciary undertook the task of being the lynch mob of this persecution. In developed democracies, the judiciary operates according to the international norms of law. It is a regulating power responsible for the establishment of justice; but in Turkey, some members of the judiciary themselves have become the grave diggers for justice.
It is not surprising, in a country where dictatorship-aspiring people who are after the institutionalization of a system not bound by the regulations of democracy, to find a judiciary suffering in a political and intellectual destitution. If you take away rights, justice, conscience and merit from judiciary, what remains is the current status of the Turkish judiciary.
We know perfectly well from our experiences that the summons of humanity for rights, justice, legality do not reach you. Therefore, I will not have a request from you. I would only like to tell you that the robes that surround you like a protective armor, are made of human lives and freedoms.
The organization that you are looking for in Cumhuriyet newspaper, is ruling the country under the disguise of a political party. The media that has become “his master’s voice” is serving the lies of this organization of vice as the truth to the public. They cover up the crimes and perform the task of proliferating the vice and making it banal. That is, spreading the Organization’s propaganda. Because a well-known truth is once again in front of us: crime is the most potent adhesive in the world. It is this adhesive that binds the political power, bureaucracy, judiciary, plundering capital and the media that has become “his master’s voice.”
Those who think that this dirty system, this crime dynasty will last forever are wrong. Like all the dictatorships that darken the pages of history, those who toil to progress with the insatiable hunger of their hates and ambitions, always prepare their own ends. When they arrive at their own hells the roads of which they themselves paved, there will be nothing left of their glorious arrogance and mind-boggling condescension. No one should doubt that the siege of this organization of vice will be broken with all its persons and institutions. Because in this country:
– Despite the enemies of democracy, there are those who fight for a sustainable and far-reaching democracy.
– Despite those who slaughter justice, there are those who defend the supremacy of law.
– Despite those who glorify war and death to perpetuate their profits, there are those who struggle to make peace and life essential.
– Despite the child murderers and protectors of pedophiles, there are those who work to make the dreams of children realities.
– And despite those who want to strangle the truth, there are those who still want to be a journalist.
This is all I want to say to an operation that wants to criminalize my journalistic activities. This is not a statement for my defense, because I consider doing so as an insult to journalism and to the ethical values of my profession. Because journalism is not a crime.
[The] criminalization of journalistic activities is a common feature of totalitarian regimes. My experience shows that because of my journalistic activities I have managed to become the offender of the judiciary of every government and of every period. I am proud of this inheritance I will be leaving to my daughter. I know this government and its judiciary also has some issues with me. Because I am trying to practice journalism. Today, I am practicing journalism depending on the power of the truth, not depending on the power of the government or other power centers as it is broadly practiced in Turkey. Because practicing journalism under the regimes that are not closely associated with democracy and gradually becoming more totalitarian, means crossing the line. And journalism cannot be practiced by toeing the line and you cannot call it journalism if it is done toeing the line.
If you write and talk by permission, you will be crushed under the weight of your inaptness [sic]. For this reason, what I am going to say is that I was a journalist yesterday. I am a journalist today. And I will continue practicing journalism tomorrow. That means the irreconcilable contradiction between us and those who want to strangle the truth will never end. In these dark days what we need is not the further loss of the truth. More than anything we need more truth.
Therefore, I will continue to respect truth more than myself and continue to refuse being one of the conformists that deny the truth. For this , it is obvious that a price must be paid. But do not think that this scares us. Neither I nor the “journalists on the outside” that I am proud to be friends with, are not afraid of you whomever you might be.
Because we know that what scares the tyrants most is courage.
And the tyrants should know that no cruelty can prevent the progress of history. Down with tyranny, long live freedom.
Read more about acts of moral courage in “Sallust: The Conspiracy Of Catiline And The War Of Jugurtha” by clicking below: