Truth is the first casualty of war. But it is often a casualty of those who seek to maintain power. The fastest way to disseminate their own propaganda, even in this day of personally presenting “alternative facts” via Twitter, Facebook and forums, is to suspend media agencies and imprison or kill journalists. It is a growing trend today, but it always existed. The following is the example of Turkey.
Present Day Turkey
Early last year Turkish authorities arrested, harassed, and expelled journalists, and either shut down or took over news outlets. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) began in March to chronicle these alarming activities. In July we all heard or read about the failed military coup to oust President Erdoğan, and the dismissal, arrest or suspension of more than 125,000 people afterward, including police officers, university professors, teachers, soldiers and public administrators. In December, Elana Beiser, reporting for CPJ, wrote: “In the wake of the overthrow attempt … the government granted itself emergency powers and, in a two-month period, detained, at least briefly, more than 100 journalists and closed down at least 100 news outlets.” Kurdish journalists were also arrested, and pro-Kurdish media agencies were shut down.
In all, CPJ was able to identify at least 81 journalists, who have been imprisoned in Turkey and face anti-state charges. PEN International has an active campaign against the Freedom of Expression Crackdown in Turkey.
In the Late Ottoman Empire
After the Young Turk Revolution in July 1908, the Committee of Union and Progress emerged as the strongest—and most ruthless—power in the new government. In April 1909, the Sultan and his supporters staged a counter-coup. That began the violent end of the Ottoman Era. The Orient reported on the imprisonment and deaths of journalists, and the suspension of newspapers. There are too many to mention, but here are a few:
- On April 6, 1909 Hasan Fehmi Bey, editor-in-chief of Serbestî, an anti-Unionist newspapers, was murdered by an unknown assassin. At the time, it was assumed his killer was associated with the Committee, for his funeral turned into a mass demonstration against it.
- On May 14, 1909 the Law Regarding Vagrants and Suspicious Persons restricted individual freedoms.
- On June 9, 1910 Ahmet Samimi Bey, editor of Sada-yi Millet, was killed.
- On July 10, 1911 Zeki Bey, editor of Sehran, was murdered.
- On February 7, 1912 Tahir Haireddin Bey, editor of the Shehra, and a former government deputy, was condemned to seventy days in prison for an article he published. The Orient noted that Tahir fled to Egypt, and “this prosecution gives rise to a report that the Unionists intend to arrest and condemn the various Opposition deputies in order to prevent their re-election.”
- In April 1913, the Levant Herald was suspended “for printing something about the new King of Greece too complimentary to suit Ottoman sensitivities.”
- In November 1913, seven Greek dailies published in Constantinople were suspended. The Holy Synod formally protested.
- In January 1914, three [unnamed] Constantinople daily papers were suspended for publishing unofficial lists of 280 recently retired officers of all ranks.
- In April 1914 Ekklesiastike Aletheia, the official newspaper of the Greek Patriarchate, was suspended.
- In June 1914 three newspapers Anadolu, Köylü and Lareforum were suspended for reporting on the immigration of Muslims [presumably forced from the Balkans to Turkey].
After this, The Orient only published bland reports of the comings and goings of missionaries, and progress made in teaching and hospital care. World War I began and the Ottoman Empire was under martial law. All mail and newspapers were heavily censored.
Suppression of Truth
Of course, Turkey is not alone in suppressing the truth. It is a growing international trend with the rise of fake news, the shutting down of media, the imprisonment of journalists, and even their murders. The No Impunity Campaign of IFEX, the network of 109 organizations supporting freedom of expression, notes that “827 journalists and media workers have been killed since 2006.” As one of IFEX’s members, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, notes: “In 9 out of 10 cases these crimes remain uninvestigated and unpunished.”