Ahmet Altan, a critical journalist and a prominent novelist with millions of copies sold, is one of the most influential authors in Turkey. He is also renowned for his political stance against the military establishment in Turkey, which held sway over the country for years.
This is a legacy he inherited from his father Çetin Altan, who spent many years in prison for expressing his opinions.
Ahmet Altan strived to see the collapse of the military tutelage in Turkey as an author and a journalist. During these years, he staunchly endorsed Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to implement EU reforms.
After the breakdown of the military tutelage regime, Erdoğan filled the void left by the generals, instead of proceeding with the aspired reforms. This is why the conflict between Ahmet Altan and Erdoğan arose.
Altan faced successive arrests when Erdogan concentrated power in his own hands. He was arrested and released several times.
His latest detention came following the controversial July 2016 coup attempt, in the wake of which Erdogan was able to gain total control over the country. Altan was imprisoned for 38 months.
First, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Later, the sentence was converted to 10 years and 6 months’ imprisonment and Ahmet Altan was released pending appeal.
Devlet Bahceli, the head of the country’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Erdogan’s fervent ally, was the first to lash out at his release. He accused Ahmet Altan of working against Turkey.
Ultra-nationalist groups and actors of the military tutelage period also opposed Ahmet Altan’s release. They campaigned for his rearrest.
Altan’s freedom lasted only 7 days and he was arrested and sent to prison again.
Was the request of the nationalist front the reason for Altan’s rearrest? He did not keep quiet after he got out of jail and praised a young man named “Selman” in his article. Could that be the reason?
Selman and his paper flute
Turkey jailed more journalists and authors than any other country in the world for three years in a row. The Erdogan regime has released some journalists after holding them in prison for a few years. Those who are released prefer silence to avoid being rearrested. They even quit journalism and writing.
Erdogan is not pleased with being branded as “the world’s worst jailer of journalists”. It is more convenient for Erdogan to be able to silence journalists through the fear of being imprisoned rather than arresting them.
However, Altan did not follow suit. From the moment he got out of prison, he began to speak out and write. Although there is no newspaper to publish his articles in Turkey, major newspapers in the world, like the Guardian, opened their pages for him.
It was not customary for Erdogan to see Altan’s articles in the newspapers.
But Altan did more and wrote an article titled “I’m free but my friends still languish in Turkish jails” telling about his cellmate who turned out to be the imprisoned nephew of Fethullah Gülen, the US-based cleric declared by Erdoğan as an arch-enemy.
All relatives of Fethullah Gülen who have the same surname as him are in Turkish prisons. Bearing the surname “Gülen” on one’s ID became one of the greatest crimes in Turkey following the coup bid. Gülen’s relatives are either in prison, hiding out from police or in exile abroad.
The same applies to his relatives whose stances are not aligned with that of Gulen.
Altan was held in prison in the same cell as the young director Selman Gülen, the nephew of Fethullah Gülen.
Ahmet Altan wrote in his article about Selman, who was arrested right after his marriage and sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, saying that he was like a son to him only using his first name “Selman”.
The story of the flute Selman fashioned out of paper and prisoners’ emotions aroused by the tunes impressed everyone who read Altan’s article.
Altan wrote that Selman had no visitors. The story of Altan and “his son in custody” was a sad one.
Everyone who read the article began to wonder who Selman is.
The Oda TV news website, led by Soner Yalçın, an infamous author who is known for his xenophobia and extreme nationalism, disclosed Selman’s surname a few days later with the headline “Selman, praised by Ahmet Altan, turns out to be the nephew of the terrorist leader Fethullah Gulen”
And then Ahmet Altan was rearrested.
Nevertheless, the great author successfully ignited the discussion he wanted to start before being handcuffed again.
Turkey prisons were full of thousands of “Selman” who did not commit any crime, detained over their dissent against Erdogan.
Each time there was a big sociopolitical change, the Turkish Republic has opted to demonize a group as a means to survive.
This “demon” was sometimes Kurds, sometimes non-Muslim minorities, sometimes Alevis and sometimes religious Muslims. Some were killed, some had their property looted and some were mobbed.
The demonized group today is the Gülen movement. Only a few fearless intellectuals are willing to hear the screams of the tens of thousands in prison over being a Gulenist.
Ahmet Altan is the leading figure among them.
Perhaps that is why he chose the title “I Will Never See the World Again” for his latest book.
Pro-Erdogan news portal targeted detainees with hate speech
A pro-government Turkish news portal published a misleading report targeting followers of the Gulen movement who were detained following a massive police raid to several apartments, as part of a mass crackdown.
The report entitled “Cryptic notes caught on sanitary pad in FETO house” claimed that “cryptic notes” were seized during the raids in 28 houses, ready to be sent to detained females via women’s pads.
The operations are part of an investigation Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launches. Upon a notice saying the movement has been reorganizing over university students, according to the report, anti-terror squads 58 people were detained.
The Turkish government outlawed the Gulen movement after the controversial coup attempt in 2016 and declared it as a terrorist organization with the acronym of FETO.
The notes pro-Erdogan media outlets published turned out to be “prayer texts” targeted people kept at home to read. The report is widely criticized for committing a hate crime without any investigation reads as follow:
“Cryptic notes were reportedly sent to one of the female suspects among the women’s pads, and also a cryptic order of the organization was conveyed to another suspect while departing from a hearing which issued a decision to extend the detention of the defendant.
“Do not benefit from effective remorse law”
As a result of the failure of these attempts, it was revealed that lawyers sent instructions to the FETO suspects, telling them not to benefit from effective remorse law (Turkish Penal Code 221/3, active cooperation with police). Some of the detained suspects wanted to benefit from the effective remorse law and provided information on the organization.
Issues of magazines of the terrorist organization and alcoholic beverage bottles were found among religious books at FETO’ s cell houses. Besides, there were so-called schedules about what to teach students on the phones of those responsible for the organization’s houses.
It was noted that some of the new university students to be recruited for the organization was reported from abroad, and they used an encrypted name to be accepted at home. Some testimonies stated that FETO’s arranged marriage system is continuing between members of the terrorist organization.
Snapchat and Whatsapp for contact
It was reported that among the members of the organization, widely used apps such as “Snapchat” and “WhatsApp” were used for communication. The texting app “Duo” was also in use.
The financial aid to the FETO houses was reportedly organized from abroad; the money was delivered to the person in charge of the organization house in crowded places, and this amount was raised to 600 Turkish liras from 400 in November 2019.”
Turkish authorities cancel press cards of critical journalists
Jailing more than a hundred journalists, Turkey has now canceled the press cards of the journalists who do not support the Erdogan regime. The authority to issue press cards was recently granted to the Presidency.
Evrensel daily is a Turkish left-leaning media outlet with modest circulation. The press cards of Evrensel employees who criticized the Erdogan Regime on various topics were canceled.
Cancellation brings with it a significant set of restrictions. Journalists without a press card cannot enter the sessions in the Parliament or the meetings where ministers and senior government officials are present.
Until a few years ago, a committee comprising of journalists and government officials held the authority to issue press cards. Although including the government representatives in the committee came under harsh criticism for years, the existing mode of conduct got worse, as the regime changed with the adoption of the presidential system in Turkey.
The representatives from the press were dismissed, and the committee became subordinate to the Communication Directorate of the Presidency. Press card requests of critical journalists were put on hold, and no new press cards were issued. However, it went even further. Press card cancellations have started.
Press cards of permanent cardholders Sultan Özer, Fevzi Argun, Evrensel newspaper’s editor-in-chief Fatih Polat, Editor-in-Chief Şengül Karadağ Bayhan and 14 other newspaper staff working in various departments were canceled.
Journalist union head’s press card canceled
Press cards of Vice President of the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) and Global News Director Gökhan Durmus were among those canceled. Checking the Press Card Query Section of the Communication Directorate of Presidency, the journalists saw the statement that their cards were canceled and called the Press Support Line of the Presidential Communication Directorate. However, the reasons for the cancellation of the cards could not be acquired since there was no response to calls throughout the day.
The number of journalists whose press cards are canceled is still unknown.
The practice was adopted against the Gulen movement
Journalists, who are perceived to be close to the Gülen Movement, had problems with their press cards since 2015. These members of the press, when their cards had expired, they could not renew them. After 2016, authorities started to deny cards to some names, even arrest them in some instances. Then pro-Kurdish journalists also had the same problem. Evrensel daily employees are also not given cards, and now the left-leaning media outlets also face the same problem.
Self-censorship draws ire as Turkey lifts Wikipedia ban
Turkey has lifted the ban on Wikipedia after a two-year block. However, the post that angered Erdogan seems to have been deleted from Wikipedia.
July 15, 2016, was one of the most important and influential moments in the history of Turkey. That night a failed coup attempt took place, which Erdogan named it “a gift to us from God.” Subsequently, Erdogan gathered all powers in Turkey into his own hands.
Wikipedia, the world’s largest online encyclopedia, added Erdogan’s name after the July 15 coup attempt in the “Dictators’ Self-coup List.”
Then the Erdogan regime banned accessing Wikipedia in Turkey on April 29, 2017. Banning anti-Erdogan websites from broadcasting is a common practice in Turkey.
As of October 2019, the number of websites banned in Turkey is 288 thousand 310.
Wikipedia was the largest website added to this list.
After two years of struggle by Wikipedia lawyers, the Supreme Court ruled for the lifting of the ban on Wikipedia.
With two detained members and Erdogan-appointed sitting members, The Supreme Court surprised everyone with such decision.
However, the truth is ultimately laid bare.
Erdogan’s name had been removed in Wikipedia from the list of leaders, who attempted self-coup.
With this change in the section, that annoyed Erdogan, 13 people’s names remained in the list of “The Post-Cold War Section” of “The list of those who had taken a coup against himself.” Maduro was added to the list with the update, and Erdogan was removed.
Wikipedia’s self-censorship is not new for Turkey. Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), is the Turkish state agency for monitoring, regulating, and sanctioning radio and television broadcasts, and RTÜK started overseeing Netflix in 2019 in Turkey, citing obscene content. Netflix initially opposed it but then agreed due to threats of shut-down.
Twitter is also in cooperation with Turkey on censorship, and thousands of Twitter profiles were blocked to access.
Online publications or other broadcasts encounter access barriers due to swift bans if they introduce question marks with regards to the July 15 coup attempt. This includes the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement: “July 15 coup was a controlled coup.”
What is self-coup?
A self-coup is a form of putsch or coup d ‘état in which a nation’s leader, elected to power by legal means, renders the national legislature powerless or dissolves it and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances. After the self-coup, the leader annuls the nation’s constitution or brings a new system by completely changing the former one. At the same time, he suspends the civil courts.