How evidence is planted on journalists

Esben Ørberg, the EFJ delegate from the Danish Journalists' Union (DJ) tells his dismay and shock of the visit to Europe's biggest court house in Istanbul and the court hearing of imprisoned journalist, Füsun Erdogan. DJ has ‘adopted' Erdogan as parts of the ongoing EFJ campaign to Set Journalists Freed in Turkey.


How evidence is planted on journalists

(Istanbul, 3 June 2013)I just managed to grab her hands for a quick greeting before the security guards surrounded the 50-year-old journalist Füsun Erdogan forming a human barrier between us.  Erdogan was quickly taken away from the courtroom in Europe's biggest court house, on the outskirts of Istanbul.

It was a moving and tragic moment. Her family and friends followed her with their eyes. It seemed that none of them see this coming - Erdogan is sent back to jail after 7-year imprisonment and she may not be free again.

We sat inside the courtroom for two hours for the hearing and listened tentatively to the lawyer defending her case. But the four judges made no attempt to hide the fact that they were occupied by something else on their computers.

During the hearing, we did not hear a word from Erdogan because she was not allowed to speak.

We were herded out of the courtroom when a break is announced. Together with a number of other supporters of Erdogan, I met with a German Bundestag member from Die Linke, who is a prominent Turkish opposition politician, and my colleagues from the Turkish Journalists' Union (TGS), with whom I spent the morning in order to understand Erdogan's case.

My interpreter is Erdogan's niece, and for two hours she whispered the most incredible story in my ear: namely the story of what her aunt is being accused of.

While I was listening tentatively the ‘crime' Erdogan was accused of, a court official suddenly announced that the trial was to terminate and resume at the end of September. Three more months in Gebze women's prison for a completely absurd "crime", her family and friends were struck with disappointment.

Ercan Ipeksi, the President the Turkish Journalists' Union and I found a place within a short distance from the court house, where we held a press conference for the handful of journalists who have been following the trial. Following that, Ercan led the journalists to Taksim Square and demonstrated together with protesters for press freedom in Turkey. Meanwhile, I found a little cafe and sat down with three of Erdogan's sisters and her niece, who filled me in with details on the story behind her imprisonment.

Several civil society organisations have been following Erdogan's case and the ‘crime' she is accused of, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and of course the EFJ. But all of them rejected the accusation of the Turkish government of Ergodan's ‘crime'.

Erdogan was accused of being a member of a Marxist organisation (MLKP, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party), which is accused of undermining the government by violence and listed as a terrorist organisation. Erdogan was accused of being a senior member of the organisation providing financial advices.

The truth is - she has never been a member of such an organisation. But how did the prosecutor make such claim against Erdogan? Why Erdogan is being put in prison?

In 2006, Erdogan was abducted on the street in Izmir and taken to a building which was suspected to house MLKP. The authority found a list of MLKP members in the building. Erdogan's presence in the building is now being used as evidence against her. The authority was convinced that her presence in the building proved that she is a senior member of the terrorist organisation.

This fantastic set-up is like something taken from a bad detective novel, but nevertheless, it is what her two lawyers - one of whom is her sister - sought untangle during today's hearing.

Erdogan was put behind bar because of her critical journalism?

Füsun Erdogan is known by as a socialist for a number of years. In prison, she has written a book about Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919) who is seen as an exponent of a 'democratic communism' and places his faith in spontaneous mass action and rejects Lenin's centralism. The book has not yet been published, so it can hardly be the reason for her imprisonment.

The reason, however, could well be her critical radio journalism at Özgür Radyo (Freedom Radio), which was founded by her in 1995. She was the director at Özgür Radyo until the police abducted her in Izmir. The radio station still exists and is highly critical of the authorities - including the past month's heavy-handed treatment of demonstrators at Taksim Square. Füsun's husband is also a journalist critical of the government. He is convinced that her imprisonment is intended to serve as a warning for those journalists critical of the government in the country. Earlier this year, Erdogan has written a letter from prison to the EFJ saying that her imprisonment is related to her work as a journalist. She also reported her deteriorating health as a direct consequence of her imprisonment.

It has become evident that the imprisonment of many journalists in Turkey has silence the critical voices. Self-censorship is becoming a norm in the Turkish media and solidarity is rare under such circumstances. The union (TGS) has only 1,000 members, out of about 100,000 Turkish journalists. Most recently, 500 union members were forced to terminate their memberships as they were afraid of losing their jobs at the state news agency, Anatolian News. But this made little difference because most of them were fired anyway.

Many of EFJ affiliates have ‘adopted' a Turkish journalist in a campaign for their freedom. The Danish Journalists' Union (DJ) has adopted Füsun Erdogan and been following her case closely. Since the imprisonment, her health conditions have deteriorated drastically, The union and the EFJ are making an appeal to the European Parliament and the European Commission to demand that Turkey must act to free its journalism in prison.

Before my return to Denmark, I encountered a few young people near Taksim Square. They told me that they want the authority to respect them and their rights. They want understanding and acceptance, instead of arrogance and violence. They want education and work. They want a fair share of in Turkey's new prosperity. And they want the freedom to decide the future themselves, rather than having religious dogma being imposed upon them.

Sadly, the vast majority of Turks do not sympathise with these young people. They believe that the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has skilfully balanced between Western democracy and strong Islamic traditions. And they adore him for his firmness and paternal strictness against ‘foreign criminals who want to split up modern Turkey'. Not least, they regard the Prime Minister as the economic success of country.

But it is my impression that the young people who have sparked off a movement that cannot be stopped. In Istanbul alone, there are 6 million young people under the age of 30 who are strongly oriented towards the idea of democracy shared by the rest of Europe. They love their country, but they are seeking change - peacefully and democratically.

My Turkish colleagues see the protests as a healthy sign, and as a small step towards greater democracy and press freedom.

In order to achieve the above goals, the pressure on the regime must be maintained. All EFJ member unions, including my union, have sent letters to their respective prime ministers and foreign ministers to make their influence on Turkey.

It must be said that, our effort to help Erdogan's case is just a modest contribution from the Danish union. The pressure on the Turkish government must be maintained with the efforts of all EFJ affiliates and civil society organisations in order to free the journalists who are currently in jails.

This article was written by Esben Ørberg and first published in Danish at magazine of the Danish Journalists' Union.