Reporters Without Borders

Seizure and destruction of Ahmet Sik's unpublished book: "a very dangerous precedent"

Seizure and destruction of Ahmet Sik’s unpublished book: "a very dangerous precedent"

Published on Friday 25 March 2011.
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Reporters Without Borders is deeply shocked by the seizure and destruction of all known copies of the last unpublished draft copy of a book by Ahmet Sik. This work, which explores the relationship between the police and the influential Islamic “Gülen Movement,” is said to contain revelations about the “Ergenekon” antiterrorist trial, which has tainted Turkish political life for years.

Not content with preventing its publication and throwing the author into jail, the Turkish judicial authorities searched the three locations where it was thought the draft copy might be found and ordered anyone who might still be in possession of it to hand it over to the authorities or face criminal charges.

By making it illegal simply to possess a computer file the legal authorities have gone to unparalleled lengths to harass investigative journalists close to the “Ergenekon” affair and have set an extremely dangerous precedent. By propagating the idea that an email received by a journalist could send him behind bars the authorities have put a deplorable and unacceptable level of pressure on media professionals.

Istanbul police yesterday searched the offices of the publishing house Ithaki, the left wing newspaper Radikal and Sik’s lawyer Fikret Ilkiz. In each case, police officers searched computers and copied the file containing the draft copy of the book before deleting all traces of it. According to sources close to the case, Sik’s manuscript “The Army of the Imam,” had been sent to Ithaki for consultation and the printer had not yet taken the decision to publish it. In the offices of Radikal, the computer belonging to journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu, who is close to Sik and who, moreover, has been summoned for questioning next week for interviewing a leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), was searched.

Police investigators also informed the journalist’s friends, colleagues and lawyers that they should hand over any copy of the manuscript or face charges of aiding and abetting the alleged terrorist conspiracy known as “Ergenekon”. The warrant, issued by an Istanbul court at the request of prosecutor Zekerya Öz, says the book contains “criminal elements” and is “propaganda for a terrorist organization”.

Reached by telephone, the lawyer and general secretary of the Turkish Press Council, Oktay Huduti, told Reporters Without Borders that “the warrant was based not on an examination of the draft copy itself, but on a 49-page police report about it.”

It is very doubtful that such measures are legally sound, and they certainly violate all of Ankara’s international engagements in terms of freedom of expression. At a joint press conference last night, three Turkish press organizations denounced an “interference in the right to write freely” in violation of article 29 of the Turkish constitution. Reporters Without Borders once again condemns the use of the “fight against terrorism” to justify a major draconian measure, and the perverse effects of Anti-Terrorist Law No. 3713, a legacy of darker times.

Hunduti said: “Turkish law allows for the search and seizure of documents, but in no case their destruction. What is more, the person who is searched should in normal circumstances receive a copy of the document seized, which was not the case here. It is difficult to understand the legal basis for these operations, since we are not in this case even talking about a book, but an unpublished draft copy.”

These operations directly contradict the reassuring statements of the Turkish government, which has insisted on the independence of the Turkish judiciary and denied that the case has any political implications. The determination shown by the prosecutor’s office in eliminating all trace of Sik’s draft copy has nonetheless reinforced suspicions about the political nature of its author’s arrest. “The Army of the Imam” investigates the alleged infiltration of the police force, the traditional defender of a secular Turkey, by the movement founded by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The Turkish press has noted that any airing of this thesis would weaken the (moderate Islamist) ruling AKP party ahead of legislative elections in June. All writers that have broached the subject in books have had run-ins with Turkish justice. They include the journalist Nedim Sener, who was also arrested on 3 March, and former policeman Hanefi Avci, who was jailed for belonging to an extreme left-wing grouping. In a book published in August 2010, Avci suggested that the “Ergenekon” affair (named after an alleged clandestine secularist network that is supposed to have plotted the current government’s overthrow) may have been invented by senior police officers affiliated to the Gülen Movement.

On 3 March, Sik, Sener and four Oda TV journalists were arrested on charges of “belonging to a terrorist organization,” joining three other Oda TV staff members who have been in prison since mid-February. The journalists have still not been informed about the contents of their case file and the “evidence” that supposedly justifies their arrest has still not yet been presented. As this “evidence” is unforthcoming, Reporters Without Borders continues to demand their immediate and unconditional release.

(Photos: Bianet, Hürriyet, AFP, Reuters)

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