Yavuz Baydar, Editor-in-Chief of Ahval, a Turkish independent online news and podcasts site, addresses the 10th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On the threat to journalism: 

“We the journalists are more than ever before alienated, demonized, targeted, threatened, forced to expect the worst.”

“Seen as the enemy by the world’s growing number of autocrats, Supreme Leaders, despots, Fuhrers and their lackeys and their sycophants, we are more fragile and vulnerable than ever before.”

“Journalism is not a crime but life for journalists elsewhere in countries eclipsed by intolerance is not easier, not at all. Only weeks ago a bold colleague of ours barely survived an abduction and possible execution attack in Pakistan.”

On human rights in Turkey:

Now we can talk about dehumanization of dissidents like in Soviet Union or Germany in 1930s. Hatred and grudge know no boundaries.”

Full Remarks

Hello everyone.

I am Yavuz Baydar, Chief Editor of the newly launched AhvalNews.com, a trilingual online news site about Turkey in Arabic, Turkish, and English in case you are interested in checking that out.

We the journalists are more than ever before alienated, demonized, targeted, threatened, forced to expect the worst. This is the evil and contagious spirit of the current times on the planet and we feel less protected, less shielded, less safeguarded by our universal and constitutional rights than ever before. Seen as the enemy by the world’s growing number of autocrats, Supreme Leaders, despots, Fuhrers and their lackeys and their sycophants, we are more fragile and vulnerable than ever before. The more we are exposed to such diabolic ways of oppression the very profession of ours, of course, is endangered. 

This is a trend that we see in many corners of the world these days. In Turkey we have – as many of you know – the lion’s share of that trend. There are a variety of ways to annihilate journalism as we see many different punitive exercises in our country. The mildest stage of the punitive measures is sackings of dignified journalists regardless of their political inclination and color. Who resist in the name of basic standards of journalism by the media proprietors who are in alliance with corrupt political leaderships in order to benefit from a corrupt order. The second grade is filing charges with imprisonment. Arrests and detentions come next at the third stage. Beatings and torture, harassment – that too. That method targets in Turkey primarily our Kurdish colleagues, the boldest segment in Turkey’s rapidly ailing journalism.

It was the dead of a December night in 2016, some months after the attempted coup in Turkey, when masked special ops units barged into the apartment of Amir Tuliarylik in Diyarbakir in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. For the next two hours Mrs. Tuliarylik, her month-old son, and her mother-in-law had to listen as the agents beat severely her husband, Amir, in the next room. The violence ended only when the police arrived. Mr. Tuliarylik, a journalist for the pro-Kurdish Djilil Haber agency, one of over 150 news outlets shut down since the abortive coup, was detained later in Diyarbakir for two weeks. He was then transferred to a maximum-security prison near Istanbul where he remains. His crime according to an indictment that appeared only in late June last year was to have published news stories based on the hacked emails of Turkey’s Energy Minister, who is the son-in-law of the president of Turkey. He faces a sentence of 16 years. In terms of the length of the prison charges you may still say he is lucky. This is mild by comparison to other cases. 

The final stage of punishment in Turkey, where the state of emergency since the attempted coup seems ad infinitum – infinite – delivering savage prison sentences to critical journalists and dissidents. Last Friday a court in Turkey sentenced three senior prominent journalists, along with three other younger ones, to aggravated lifetime imprisonment for a TV studio chat and a few opinion articles inciting the coup by sending out quote-un-quote “subliminal messages” in that direction. Of the three, Ahmed Alton, a former chief editor of the anti-militarist Daily Tarraf, no longer existing, and his brother economist and columnist Mahmet and the third one the host of the very TV show, a 73 year old lady Nasleh Chak. What united these was their staunch pro-democracy views and their ferocious intellectual activity against the all-authoritarian political engineering stances in Turkish politics throughout the decades. 

Aggravated lifetime sentence, what does it mean? It means that they will have to spend the rest of their lives in prison without a parole, in solitary confinement, 23 hours per day, being given a right to meet a close relative twice a month. No other contacts with other prisoners are allowed in 30 years. This is as far as it gets. The sentences display a powerful trend that we now can speak of what in German is called “Feindstrafrecht” the law against the enemy. Relatively new term coined by German law expert Gunter Jacobs. Now we can talk about dehumanization of dissidents like in Soviet Union or Germany in 1930s. Hatred and grudge know no boundaries. What’s probably worse is that these sentences are signal flares for similar punishments in the coming trials for two newspapers Daily Jumuriet and Daily Zaman – now banned. Trials in which staunchly pro-democracy colleagues, elderly, many of them in frail health, faced extremely long term imprisonments simply for reporting freely and expressing dissent to arbitrary power.

Journalism is not a crime but life for journalists elsewhere in countries eclipsed by intolerance is not easier, not at all. Only weeks ago a bold colleague of ours barely survived an abduction and possible execution attack in Pakistan. He was simply lucky. He is 33 years old, an award-winning investigative journalist both in print and visual media, he covered Pakistan for a dozen years, he operates – or operated I would say – in Islamabad and reported for New York Times, The Guardian, and France 24. Later his coverage extended to Afghanistan including documentaries. One documentary on polio in the region in these two countries brought him the Albert Laundre prize which is the most prestigious media award in France compared to Pulitzer of France. He continued to cover terrorism, violence, minorities and the subject equally as taboo in Turkey as in Pakistan civilian-military relations which exposed him as a renowned critic of Pakistani military. Most recently he was forced to leave his country, he now lives in Paris, France. His case was covered by the French media extensively and he feels he has to live in exile having to find a job to make a living for himself and for his family in Europe. Now he is here in Geneva with us to tell his dramatic story and beyond.

So without further ado ladies and gentlemen: from Pakistan a brave journalist, indefatigable with his professional exercise, Mr. Taha Siddiqui. 

Speakers and Participants

Yavuz Baydar

Turkish journalist who won the 2014 European Press Prize for fighting censorship in Turkey

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