About a week before the June 7 general elections, the newspaper at which I’ve been working received a tip from a trusted source — a whistleblower who is never off the mark — that the police had a list of people in the office who were to be apprehended and detained for a litany of crimes like “insulting the President and/or institutions of the Republic of Turkey.”
Turkey has been described as the worlds largest jail for journalists anyhow and this particular paper has been a special target of the government for the last few years for a number of reasons, most of which I’d say you could group together in the “not pro-government” category.
Someone of importance was recently detained and not long ago the paper lost a reporter to deportation, despite their having the documents that allowed for their staying and working in the country. The president regularly denounces the opposition parties and press using all manner of fairly stark terms — like “enemies” and “terroristic” — and some officials have called for the closure of this, that, and some other newspapers.
Needless to say, last week was a bit stressful for some of the people in the office.
They had set up cameras all over the property, so as to catch the inevitable police raid from every angle for the purposes of reporting the story. We were all a little on edge. Most of us weren’t on the list but as anyone who has ever seen the police of any country on the job can tell you, you just never know what can happen when they get all gung-ho about their tasks.
Contingency plans. ranging from the maintenance of the paper to ideas for dealing with the disruption of individuals’ daily lives, were a regular topic of discussion during this time. I hadn’t ever made one. I figured that it was far more likely that I would get deported than thrown in prison for my minor role in the production of this newspaper. My position is not such that were the police to come in and start harassing people, I would need to escape by repelling down the building using the giant Turkish flag we have hanging from the balcony.
Well, I can’t say for certain that this would not be the best course of action. I think it’s best to leave a lot of options on the table.
The police never came though.
The police are everywhere in İstanbul, just as they are in Chicago, but they never showed up at my place of employment to arrest the people on their list of dangerous journalists who promote instability through their slanderous remarks about the president’s brand new 1,015 room palace (actually probably more like 2,000) or their quasi-positive (that is, not hateful) coverage of the Peoples’s Democratic Party (HDP) election campaign.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost about 12% of the support that they had in the last presidential election, a figure which is incidentally 1% less than the HDP won, allowing the radical left party to pass the world’s highest electoral threshold and claim seats in the Grand National Assembly; a first for a “pro-Kurdish” party.
Does that mean the state’s special bodies of armed men are less likely to clamp down on critical media or more? One school of thought says that they cannot afford it because it would appear as little more than petty, revenge seeking. Another says they’re more likely because it’s fair to say that reporting on the activities of the government has contributed to its declining popularity and that revenge is exactly what they want.
There’s no telling, really. The AKP got 40% of the vote and are still the largest party in the parliament. If the other three parties can’t form a government — something which is not at all guaranteed as they’re very far apart ideologically and programmatically — there might even be a second election, during which the ruling party might do well to have silenced some critical voices. Alternately, they could decide that appearing more tolerant would serve them well.
So, for now it appears as though the whole thing should just be put aside. Whether or not someone will eventually be greeted by the somewhat terrifying Turkish police as they head into work, it would appear that for now, no one is in immediate danger of being arrested.
On a related note, 45 people are facing possible prison sentences ranging anywhere from four months to 15 years for their roles in the May Day protests in Beşiktaş. Apparently they threw rocks and fireworks at the police. They’re being charged with “conspiring to form a criminal organization” or something to that effect.
I was in Beşiktaş on May Day and I didn’t see anyone throw rocks or fireworks. It may have happened, hell it probably happened. I can’t say for certain because I couldn’t see much through the teargas clouds.
They say you should watch the company you keep. From the muckraking journalists who infuriate and embarrass politicians to the street activists making trouble for the police on labor holidays, I feel like I’ve made some decent choices.
Don’t worry, I’m being careful.