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GUEST BLOG / By Kiran Nazish, New America--The afternoon was abuzz with cameras clicking, as journalists gathered to observe a team of Turkish investigators arrive at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, reportedly there to figure out what happened to Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared on October 2 and has since been confirmed by Turkey’s chief prosecutor to have been gruesomely killed. “Turkey wants to get justice for a silenced journalist? Ha! It’s really a farce,” Fatih Ekram, a Turkish cameraman, told me recently, recounting the days when Turkish authorities were the ones harassing journalists.
In the purge following a coup attempt in 2016, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan sought to control the situation by controlling the narrative around it. His first target: the local media. Erdogan’s administration arrested reporters and editors and shut down news channels. Ekram told me that he spent those days filming the police as they arrested journalists, barging into media companies to destroy equipment and handcuff reporters. “This is surreal,” Ekram said, almost in disbelief, as he watched and recorded Turkish authorities’ seemingly proactive investigation into the killing of Khashoggi, only two years after the government-led purge.
Indeed, in a twist of irony, Khashoggi’s death and Erdogan’s attempts to link it to the Saudi government have again exposed Turkey’s own vicious treatment of the press. More bluntly, what looks like genuine concern for a journalist is anything but earnest—it’s downright hypocritical, and it reveals more about Turkey’s dangerous media landscape than it does about the Khashoggi case.
Erdogan, who has been pushing Saudi Arabia to provide answers to the Khashoggi killing, has created what could be a diplomatic nightmare for the Saudis. In fact, it’s plausible that the Saudis could have gotten away with killing Khashoggi had Erdogan not so aggressively insisted on making the investigation a national priority, instructing his officials to take the lead in uncovering the truth. “Where is Khashoggi’s body?” Erdogan publicly asked Saudi Arabia, putting immense pressure on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
And yet, even though Turkey was the country that leaked some of the initial details of Khashoggi’s disappearance in early October, it’s continued its pattern of arresting, detaining, and imprisoning multiple journalists, frequently labeling them terrorists.
For instance, during a large crackdown in Diyarbakır on October 9—a mere five days after Khashoggi disappeared—the police took at least six journalists and two newspaper distributors into custody. Most of them were detained at police headquarters due to their association with pro-Kurdish media outlets. Then, on October 11, almost a dozen more arrests were made. Sources in Turkey told me that detained journalists were asked pointed questions like, “What’s your connection to the PKK/KCK?”—referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant group located in southern Turkey and northern Iraq—and, “How many times have you exited the country illegally?” Çağdaş Kaplan, an editor at Yeni Yaşam, one of the targeted publications, tweeted that the police had broken into the office and confiscated computers.
Cihan Olmenz, one of the arrested journalists, claims that he spent four days detained in a Turkish prison—simply for doing his job. On his release, he told me by phone that he’d been accused of being a terrorist and an enemy of the state because he’d previously attended a Kurdish protest. Olmenz was astonished by the news of Erdogan’s pursuit of justice in the Khashoggi case: “Is this not what Turkey wants of its own journalists? For them to shut up?”
Such arrests and crackdowns aren’t unique to Turkey, but Erdogan has been consistently trying out new ways to silence members of the press who stand in opposition to the official government line, going so far as to reach beyond Turkey’s borders to quash dissent. On October 16, for instance, a Turkish court asked Interpol to cooperate in arresting journalists Can Dündar and İlhan Tanır, who now live in Germany. The court requested a red notice—“a request to locate and provisionally arrest an individual pending extradition,” per Interpol’s definition—for the journalists. Both are defendants in a state trial against Cumhuriyet, an opposition paper that’s been shuttered by the government.
Securing press freedom in Turkey, where more than 140 journalists have been imprisoned since the coup, is critical to creating any semblance of democracy in the country. Unfortunately, due to efforts by the Erdogan administration to stifle dissent, many cases of press harassment and violence aren’t even documented. Olmenz believes that, unless large-scale arrests take place, the media rarely reports on the day-to-day muzzling of journalists.
Today, Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists—surpassing even China. For Turkish journalists, it’s indeed surreal to witness their country investigate, with non-existent bona fides, the same sort of crime that’s been committed against them with seasonal regularity.
As the Khashoggi case unfolds, international media has focused on the grisly details of the reported Saudi plot. Yet this is also a critical moment to ask ourselves why the Saudis may have thought that they could get away with slaying a journalist in Turkey in the first place—why a country with an inglorious record on human rights would be the ideal site of a killing. ##
JAMAL KHASHOGGI’S FINAL COLUMN BEFORE HE WAS MURDERED
JAMAL KHASHOGGI’S FINAL COLUMN BEFORE HE WAS MURDERED
A note from Karen Attiah, Washington Post, Global Opinions editor:
“I received this column from Jamal Khashoggi’s translator and assistant the day after Jamal was reported missing in Istanbul. The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together. Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post. This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for. I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together.”
WHAT THE ARAB WORLD NEEDS MOST IS FREE EXPRESSION
By Jamal Khashoggi
“I was recently online looking at the 2018 “Freedom in the World” report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as “free.” That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of “partly free.” The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as “not free.”
As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.
The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.
My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He, unfortunately, is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment. The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.
As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.
There are a few oases that continue to embody the spirit of the Arab Spring. Qatar’s government continues to support international news coverage, in contrast to its neighbors’ efforts to uphold the control of information to support the “old Arab order.” Even in Tunisia and Kuwait, where the press is considered at least “partly free,” the media focuses on domestic issues but not issues faced by the greater Arab world. They are hesitant to provide a platform for journalists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. Even Lebanon, the Arab world’s crown jewel when it comes to press freedom, has fallen victim to the polarization and influence of pro-Iran Hezbollah.
The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power. During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe, which grew over the years into a critical institution, played an important role in fostering and sustaining the hope of freedom. Arabs need something similar. In 1967, the New York Times and The Post took joint ownership of the International Herald Tribune newspaper, which went on to become a platform for voices from around the world.
My publication, The Post, has taken the initiative to translate many of my pieces and publish them in Arabic. For that, I am grateful. Arabs need to read in their own language so they can understand and discuss the various aspects and complications of democracy in the United States and the West. If an Egyptian reads an article exposing the actual cost of a construction project in Washington, then he or she would be able to better understand the implications of similar projects in his or her community.
The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”.