Turkey's ongoing strategy of stifling press freedom: police raids and confiscation

by The Region    


The first development concerns the police operation against Ozgurlukcu Demokrasi (Libertarian Democracy), the successor to the already closed Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda), a flagship publication for the Kurdish press in Turkey. After raids conducted on March 28th, the newspaper and printing company was put under state control and its employees were all arrested. The country's only Kurdish-language newspaper, "Welat," was soon forced to stop printing as well.

Secondly, we must look to the sale of one of the most influential media groups in Turkey which, up until recently, did not completely follow a publishing agenda set out by Erdogan. The Dogan Media Group was forced to be sold to the Erdogan-related small media group Demiroren Holding Group. This time, the little fish swallowed the big fish - with a little bit of help from the President.

Of course, these actions have a strong symbolic meaning. The newspapers and TV stations of the Dogan Media Group initially rejected "the one-man Islamic regime" that Erdogan has long wanted to construct, and on many important issues, they expressed their opposition to Erdogan and the AKP. They were able to do so while relying on the old-rulers, the Kemalists, who at that time still had an influence on the army and bureaucracy.

And Erdogan tried to break this resistance to his rule with tax penalties and threats. And it worked. The more this occurred, the more the media group increasingly sought reconciliation with the regime. Targeted journalists, authors and TV producers were fired and the content was gradually made compatible with Erdogan's wishes. When leftist, socialist, Kurdish and Alevi media projects were targeted and when, for example, twelve television channels were suddenly shut down in October 2016, the Dogan group did not even report on it.

However, for an obsessional leader like Erdogan, these gestures of support were not enough, and he sought make an example of the Dogan Media Groups' dissent. In the end, political and economic pressure forced the Dogan Group to be sold.

The fight against any dissenting voices has become a principal policy issue for the 2019 elections. People have been imprisoned due to their social media posts. Journalists who have expressed a crumb’s worth of criticism towards Erdogan have lost their jobs, been labelled as terrorists, and have been locked up in jail.

But how long can this last? Neutralizing media outlets and imprisoning dissenting voices only makes the prevailing authoritarianism more visible. If Erdogan is not careful, we could start to see a resurgence of civil disobedience, much like the Gezi Park protests of 2013.