On 29 December 2016, Aslı Erdoğan (LR, September 2016), a prominent Turkish novelist, columnist and human rights activist, was released from pre-trial detention in Istanbul. Erdoğan had been imprisoned since August, together with twenty other journalists and employees of Ozgür Gündem, a pro-Kurdish opposition daily newspaper that was shut down following the declaration of a state of emergency in the wake of the failed coup attempt of July 2016. However, this welcome news was tempered by the arrest, on the same day, of award-winning investigative journalist Ahmet Şık.
Şık was arrested at his home in Istanbul on the morning of 29 December, sparking fears that the government crackdown on critical voices in the media is nowhere near abating. According to PEN, Şık is accused of producing terrorist propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement, which the government blamed for the failed coup. He has also been charged under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, for ‘publicly denigrating the Republic of Turkey, its judiciary, military and security forces’.
The state-run Anatolian News Agency has reported that Şık’s arrest was related to a number of tweets and news stories he wrote that were critical of the Turkish government. These include articles that condemn Turkey’s alleged role in arming factions involved in the Syrian civil war, an interview with senior leaders of the PKK about the aborted peace negotiations with Turkey and a number of news items critical of the government’s handling of the conflict with the PKK in the aftermath of the collapse of the peace process.
Since 1991, Şık has sought to uncover political corruption in Turkey, writing for Cumhuriyet, Evrensel, Radikal, Nokta, BirGün and Reuters. He has also written three controversial books. Two, published in 2010, are about Ergenekon, an illegal organisation alleged to be behind many acts of political violence in Turkey, and its relationship to Turkish military and paramilitary groups. His most recent, The Imam’s Army, deals with the influence of the Gülen movement in Turkey’s police and judiciary (Şık was one of the first journalists to write about the growing power of the Gülen movement). Şık is also the author of ‘Journalism Under Siege’, a joint report on press freedom in Turkey by English PEN, Article 19 and Free Word.
Şık was previously arrested in March 2011 together with a group of broadcast and print journalists associated with the online news outlet OdaTV, alleged to be the media arm of Ergenekon. He was accused of ‘knowingly and willingly aiding and abetting an illegal organisation’ and of ‘membership of an armed organisation’, and he faced an increased sentence under Article 5 of the Turkish Anti-Terror Law. He was held in pre-trial detention for thirteen months.
Following his arrest in December last year, Şık was initially kept in solitary confinement in filthy conditions in Metris Prison. After being transferred to Silivri Prison on 2 January this year, he was denied access to all forms of media. His lawyers appealed against the court’s decision to detain him. Two days later, this appeal was rejected. They have now filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court. Şık has argued that the case should be dismissed altogether on the grounds that the evidence against him has been fabricated and elements within the police and judiciary acted illegally in the course of the investigation. Şık is also being tried for comments he made upon his release in March 2012, when he criticised the authorities involved in his arrest and initial imprisonment. Both hearings will be held in February 2017.
In 2014, Şık was awarded the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. In late 2015, he was the first writer to be selected for a residency at the Free Word Centre in London.
Freedom of expression in Turkey has deteriorated in recent months, with over 150 writers and journalists currently behind bars. Almost 170 news outlets have been shut down under laws passed by presidential decree in the aftermath of the failed coup. Under the ongoing state of emergency, the arbitrary use of extraordinary powers remains commonplace, while normal constitutional protections are suspended. At the time of writing, ten of the writers currently detained have not faced any charge. Some 114 of those arrested have been charged since the coup attempt, while at least twenty-nine of the journalists now in prison had been charged before then. Şık’s arrest occurred the day after Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmuş, warned members of the press to ‘watch their step’ during a press conference in Ankara.
Readers might like to send appeals, expressing concern that award-winning investigative journalist Ahmet Şık is being held in prison in violation of his right to freedom of expression and calling for his immediate and unconditional release; urging the authorities to ensure that all detained writers and journalists have access to lawyers and that they be tried promptly in accordance with international fair trial standards; and calling on the authorities not to use the state of emergency to crack down on peaceful dissent, civil society, media and education and to release all journalists and writers held solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Appeals to be addressed to:
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Vekaletler Caddesi, Başbakanlık Merkez Bina
06573, Kızılay, Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 417 0476
Bekir Bozdağ, Minister of Justice
Milli Müdafaa Caddesi 22, Bakanlıklar
06659, Kızılay, Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 3370
His Excellency Abdurrahman Bilgiç
Turkish Embassy, 43 Belgrave Square
London SW1X 8PA
Fax: +44 20 7393 0066