NEW DELHI: The deplorable state of freedom of speech and expression in Turkey has once again been brought to the fore with the shutting down of a Turkish channel, just 26 days after its launch. Olay TV blamed Turkish government for putting intense pressure before darkening its screen during a dramatic live broadcast Friday.
The channel's executive editor Suleyman Sarilar, who was joined in on the news set by dozens of staffers during his farewell speech, said the network's joint-owner Cavit Caglar, a former state minister, was "under great pressure by the government" as the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan-led regime was disturbed by the pro-Kurdish coverage.
"Everybody knows which office in Turkey would silence and pressure a television channel that just started broadcasting on November 30, and one that meant to engage in neutral journalism," Sarilar said.
The move has generated a lot of criticism from the Turkish netizens and the opposition parties who believe that Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has tarnished the country's reputation beyond repair.
"Despotism and freedom of the press cannot stand side by side. There is either freedom of the press or despotism in a country," said Democracy and Breakthrough Party's Mustafa Yeneroglu.
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu also lashed out at the ruling government. "Our country does not deserve this darkness. We will definitely bring the light! #Olaytv," Kilicdaroglu tweeted, tagging an image of the channel's black screen. Ironically, Erdogan on Saturday proclaimed that 2021 would be a year of democratic and economic reforms in the country.
"As promised, I hope 2021 will be a year of democratic and economic reforms," the Turkish president was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency Anadolu during a video address from Istanbul.
The ground reality is a lot different though as has been proven by hundreds of incidents over the last few years, especially since the alleged coup attempt in 2016.
Erdogan has been accused of imposing draconian laws that suppresses human rights and freedoms in Turkey and criminalise the defence by lawyers of persons opposing the government. The authoritarian regime has been widely criticized for its extensive and unjust use of anti-terrorism laws against lawyers, activists, journalists, trade unionists, and intellectuals.
Last week, a local court sentenced Can Dundar, the exiled former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, to more than 27 years in jail on espionage and terror charges for publishing a story headlined "Iste Erdogan'in yok dedigi silahlar" ("Here are the weapons that Erdogan said do not exist") which revealed that Turkish intelligence was supplying weapons to Islamist groups in Turkey.
After the verdict, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun even called for the extradition of Dundar who had fled to Germany in 2016.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which ranked Turkey 154th out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, termed the court's decision "insane".
"This insane and shocking decision confirms that President Erdogan's regime is unable to halt its headlong flight into ever-greater authoritarianism," RSF editor-in-chief Pauline Ades-Mevel said.
"More than any other case, it shows the degree to which journalists are subjected to judicial persecution in Turkey. Even if Can Dundar now lives freely in Germany, we call for this eminent journalist's conviction to be overturned."
A few months ago, a coalition of 11 international press freedom, journalism and human rights groups had warned that Turkey's press freedom crisis is worsening amid growing state capture of media, the lack of independence of regulatory institutions, and a new social media law designed to clamp down on the remaining spaces for free comment. Flagging the continued jailing and prosecution of journalists, the coalition said that scores of journalists remain behind bars in Turkey or face baseless prosecutions in retaliation for their work. The Turkish authorities also had no qualms about blocking all access to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia from April 2017 to January 2020 because of content accusing them of complicity with Islamic State.
In October, a European Union progress report on Turkey highlighted a "serious backsliding" on freedom of expression in the country.
"Serious backsliding continued on freedom of expression. The disproportionate implementation of the restrictive measures continued to negatively affect the freedom of expression and dissemination of opposition voices. Criminal cases and convictions of journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, writers and social media continued," the report mentioned. Experts reckon 2021 could be no different even though Erdogan is trying to project it as an "year of reforms". (IANS)