A well-known media ombudsman in Turkey has claimed that Turkish reporters have been reluctant to regularly cover trials of real and alleged members of the faith-based Gülen movement, local media reported on Monday.
The Gülen movement is a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric resident in the US.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government accuse the faith-based group of masterminding a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and label it a terrorist organization, although both Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.
Ombudsman Faruk Bildirici on Monday argued in an article on the T24 news website that court reporters had been reluctant to cover Gülen movement trials due to “self-censorship” and the fact that many fail to realize that “condemning the movement” is one thing and “people having the right to a fair trial” is another.
“All the people tried in these cases are considered guilty. That being the case, what goes on in these trials stays out of sight,” Bildirici said.
He continued to say that two court reporters he talked to about the trials of alleged Gülen movement members had confirmed his observations.
“No one follows these trials except for a few journalists. And the [state-run] Anadolu news agency publishes cookie-cutter pieces [on them],” Bildirici quoted one of the reporters as saying, while the other told him, “Sometimes in these cases, there are situations where I think, ‘This person is obviously innocent, how can he or she be convicted like that,’ but I refrain from writing that [in the report].”
Bildirici underlined that the principles of journalism do not change according to a trial or its defendants and that the presumption of innocence applies to everyone.
“I know it is very difficult to fairly follow these trials in an environment where … the government treats everyone in these trials as if they had leprosy. But journalism cannot be [done] without rowing against the tide,” Bildirici said.
According to the media ombudsman, the same environment prompted news outlets in Turkey, except for a few dailies and news websites, to overlook “the crisis of human rights and the law” at the Ankara Bar Association.
Bildirici was referring to a report drafted by the lawyers of the association on allegations of torture made by suspects detained due to alleged links to the Gülen movement at a police detention center in Ankara that the management of the association recently decided not to publish.
The move drew widespread criticism and prompted resignations within the association, including that of its human rights committee head Rıza Türmen, who is also a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
“… These resignations at the bar association point to a problem in the judiciary and the police. The media should have accessed the content of this report and sought the answer to the question, ‘Were FETÖ suspects tortured at the police department?’” Bildirici said.
FETÖ is a derogatory acronym used by the government to label the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization.
Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members, and his inner circle.
Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands, including many prosecutors, judges, and police officers involved in the investigation.