PEN International Turkey celebrated with irony the 109th anniversary of press freedom in Turkey on July 24, which coincided with the first day in the trial of Cumhuriyet journalists and executives.
“Today is July 24. Today we are celebrating the abolishment of censorship with joy and happiness. Censorship was abolished on July 24, 1908; since that day we have been celebrating the ‘Journalists and Press Festival’ every year on July 24 in the freest country in the world,” said PEN.
Ironically referring to the lack of freedom of thought and the imposition of pressure on journalists, PEN said: “No matter which ideology and newspaper they belong to, our journalists are freely thinking, following the facts, investigating, questioning, writing, speaking, criticizing, commenting, discussing and doing their jobs without reproach for what they are writing.”
The trial of 17 suspects, including Cumhuriyet daily journalists and executives who were arrested in November 2016, began at an İstanbul court on July 24, 267 days after the newspaper’s staff members were arrested.
The Turkish Press Council, which criticized the situation of democracy in Turkey, commented on the state of the media before the trial started and said: “While aiming to become one of the liberal democracies, today we are faced with a media image that is darkened by bans, pressure, self-censorship and collective unemployment. One hundred sixty journalists are in jail. In the last year alone 110 media organizations were closed down and 2,500 journalists were left unemployed.”
The charges brought against 17 Cumhuriyet employees in the April indictment accuse them of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) and FETÖ.
FETÖ is a derogatory term coined by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to refer to the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt last year. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the putsch.