Some analysts, under the impression that Turkey is severing relations with Israel because Turkey claims that it is its duty is to champion "human rights" in the Middle East, have written that Turkey is abandoning "realpolitik" for "moralpolitik."
According to a large number of academics and journalists in the Western media, especially in Europe, Turkey has chosen to follow a new ethical policy based on moral attitudes. This simplistic and naïve interpretation of the Turkish agenda is becoming so that the international community fails to denounce human rights abuses in Turkey. In Italy, several media sources, such as the newspaper La Stampa, wrote that Turkey is an example of democracy to be followed in the Middle East, whereas the Washington-based Middle East Institute wrote in an article published by Dr. Gonul Tol that Turkey is balancing strategic interests with idealism."Turkey views its conduct of foreign policy as a balance between diplomacy and hard power to pursue its interests, both moral and geopolitical," Tol wrote..
In April, the International Press Institute released a document stating that Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world -- including China and Iran. The report is based on a document published by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Turkey's freedom of press. "Fifty-seven journalists are in prison in Turkey and the number of ongoing trials that can result in imprisonment of journalists is estimated to be from 700 to 1000," said Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, who commissioned the study after receiving a number of reports about imprisoned journalists.
The OSCE's report states that most imprisoned journalists are in jail based on Articles 5 and 7 of the Anti-Terror Law of Turkey, which relate to articles of the Criminal Code on terrorist offences and organizations; or assisting members of, or making propaganda in connection with, such organizations; as well as Article 314 of Türk Ceza Kanunu,the Criminal Code of Turkey on establishing, commanding or becoming a member of an armed organization with the aim of committing certain offences.
In most cases, however, as reported by the OSCE terrorism is used as a pretext to jail journalists from the opposition, who criticize the government. The secular daily Radikal reported in April that Aziz Özer, the chief executive officer for the monthly culture and literature magazine "Güney" (South), had been sentenced to 1.5 years in prison because of a short story and a caricature he published that were determined to constitute "making propaganda" for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. As reported by the daily Hurriyet, the sentence was not suspended. According to the OSCE's report, Adanir Bedri, editor in chief of a Kurdiosh publication, is tried in relation to 38 books and various published articles. He stands accused of "membership to the Kürdistan İşçi Partisi (PKK) (Kurdistan Workers' Party)" and "spreading propaganda for an illegal organization.", as he published declarations from PKK representatives in his newspaper. Still, according to the April OSCE's report, the author Berktas Nevin is convicted on charges of "propaganda for an illegal organization". The charges were based on her book entitled "Difficult places that challenge the faith: Prison Cells". The book describes the experience of resistance in the prison where she was incarcerated during the military coup in 1980. The Armenian website Keghart reports that Berktas was convicted and sentenced under Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law (propaganda for an illegal organization). Keghart further reports that her lawyer has demonstrated that, due to an administrative error in calculating a sentence for other convictions, Berktas has already spent almost 6 years too many in prison.
The OSCE accuses Turkey of silencing journalists with long, unjust prison sentences and undemocratic pre-trial detention. As stated in the OSCE's report: "The longest conviction is 166 years and the longest jail sentence sought for a journalist is 3,000 years. Many journalists face double life sentences if convicted, some without possibility for parole. Pre-trial detentions are also often very long. Journalists are held in prison for up to three years before trial. Courts do not tend to implement existing alternative judicial control mechanisms instead of arrests. There is concern that arrests and long pre-trial detentions without conviction are used as a form of intimidation."
Further, OSCE reports that Turkish journalists are often charged with several offences, with one journalist facing 150 separate cases. Once convicted, journalists are often jailed in F-type high security prisons, where they have to serve their time with "the most dangerous criminals." The problem in Turkey is that journalists are not allowed to do their jobs or report on sensitive issues; those who dare to do so are considered criminals by the government. "Writing about sensitive issues, including issues of terrorism or anti-government activities, is often considered supporting those issues," states the OSCE's report.
Since the release of the OSCE's report, the numbers of jailed journalists has increased. Reporters Without Borders (RWB) is increasingly concerned about the freedom of press in Turkey and recently complained, especially about the way the Turkish authorities continue to treat two of the country's leading investigative journalists, Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, held since March 3, and who have just completed their sixth month in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. "These two journalists have already been detained without any justification for six months and the trial has not even started," RWB said. "Each day they spend in prison is an outrage that sullies the image of Turkish democracy. Although the judicial authorities keep delaying the start of their trial, it is vital that they are released conditionally at the first hearing. It will signal that the Turkish courts are part of Turkish society's move towards more democracy."
Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener are both vocal critics of the AKP party. The OSCE reports that Sik wrote a book that has not yet been published. The manuscript is called "İmamın Ordusu" (The Imam's Army) and is about the transformation of the police institution in Turkey and the impact of the influential Islamic Gulen movement, lead by the Pennsylvania-based Imam Fethullah Gulen, within this body. His home in Istanbul and his office at İstanbul Bilgi Universitesi have been searched by police. Hard discs, pictures and CD's have been seized by police. RWB says that Not content with preventing its publication and throwing the author Sik to jail, "the Turkish judicial authorities searched the three locations where it was thought the draft copy might be found and ordered anyone who might still be in possession of it to hand it over to the authorities or face criminal charges".
The OSCE reports that Nedim Sener instead wrote two books on the murder of the Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, criticizing the government of the lack of transparency in the investigation. He is facing various charges in several cases. On March 3, 2011, police searched his home and seized many materials, leading to his arrest, allegedly in relation to "Ergenekon membership". The Institute for Free Press (IFP) awarded Sener with the title of World Press Freedom Hero. The IFP writes that Sener his book uncovered the involvement of Turkish security agencies in Dink's killing outside of the Armenian weekly Agos newspaper's office in January 2007. His book led to the filing of charges by several senior police and security service officials.
RWB also stated that after three days in police custody, Sik and Sener were transferred to prison on March 6 together other colleagues. "Their arrests and the absurd charges that ensued triggered a wave of protests in Turkey and abroad and became the symbol of both the judicial system's paranoid attitude towards the media and the widespread use of pre-trial detention", RWB claimed, adding that Turkish journalists are victims of the government's paranoia towards media coverage: "The journalists are paying for their critical coverage of an extremely sensitive subject, an alleged clandestine network of secularist military officers and ultra-nationalists known Ergenekon that is supposed to have plotted a coup against the pro-Islamic AKP government. The arrest of alleged military conspirators in 2007 was initially hailed as a victory for democracy but the conspiracy allegations have since been seen as pretext for a witch-hunt within opposition sectors."
The Turkish government denies limiting freedom of press, and claims instead that the imprisonment of most of the convicts has nothing to do with their journalistic activities. The Justice Ministry argued that certain non-governmental organizations have published various numbers about imprisoned journalists that were not based on "healthy information."
As mentioned by RWB in a long and detailed report on freedom of the press in Turkey, however, reporting about certain topics is still routinely punished by the Turkish courts. Time magazine reports that "the government's 'you're either with us or against us' attitude has created a palpable sense of repression in the press, particularly since media and business interests are closely linked. The main government-critical news group, Dogan, was slapped with 4.8 billion lira ($3.05 billion) in tax fines in 2009 after a row with the government over corruption allegations involving members of the AKP party. […] Reporters worry that they might lose their press card or be banned from further meetings. Erdogan has personally sued dozens of cartoonists and journalists for defamation. Under his administration, thousands of websites have been shut down at times, including YouTube, Vimeo and Blogger".
The international community should immediately place media freedom and human rights at the center of its relation with Turkey.
Arne König, President of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), said that there should be more information in the West on what it is happening in Turkey. He expressed concern that Turkey is not as much under pressure from the outside world a much as it used to be in the past. In his opinion, the member states of the European Union have been manipulative in terms of press freedom. König also said that the imprisonment of journalists has shown a lack of democracy in Turkey, and that there is a long way to go before democracy will be enacted. This lack of democracy, however, is apparently the kind of "moralpolitik" that the Turkish government seems proud to pursue in its policy, and that the media seem content to let it entrench.