In a sadly predictably turn of events, Turkish journalist Ahmet Şık was taken into custody by Turkish police on December 29 and formally arrested on December 30. Şık said his detention was a result of a tweet (he did not specify which one of his tweets was the culprit). He is being kept in isolation, but reported, via his lawyers, that he was denied potable water for three days.
Şık is now in Silivri prison, the same prison where he was held in 2011. At that time, Şık was arrested as part of the Ergenekon trials, which sought to identify and prosecute members of an allegedly massive anti-government underground group of the same name. The AKP government has since distanced itself from these trials, and the convictions have been overturned. The government claims its former ally, now enemy, the Gulen Movement, falsified evidence that ultimately sent many of Turkey’s top military officials to jail.
At the time, Şık was working on a book about the deep connections between members of the Gulen movement and the Turkish police forces. It was this book that led to accusations about his involvement with Ergenekon.
The charges Şık currently faces are deeply ironic. Despite his consistent criticism of Gulen, Şık is currently being charged with propagandizing for the movement, as well as the Kurdish guerrilla organization, the PKK. According to the writers advocacy organization, English PEN, there are at least 150 writers and journalists in Turkish jails.
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On Friday, December 6, Turkey’s government issued a new set of legal decrees under the ongoing (and recently renewed) state of emergency. In addition to the now routine dismissal of nearly 6,000 civil servants, the decrees give the Turkish government even more power over the media and private citizens. A media outlet that fails to comply, at least three times, with a government issued gag order (which are now routine after a terrorist attack or other emergency) will be shut down. Under the decree, the police can now access data about the Internet activities of private citizens without restriction.
The Turkish government also seems to be working to curtail criticism from abroad. Another decree issued Friday states that Turkish citizens, living outside the country, who are accused of one of the crimes found in section 5237 of Turkey’s criminal code, which includes everything from homicide and treason to defamation and disturbing the peace, and fail to return to Turkey to face charges, can have their citizenship stripped. The most high profile target of this new rule is Fethullah Gulen, the founder of the eponymous movement. Gulen resides in Eastern Pennsylvania and has been the subject of a long-standing (and unsuccessful) extradition request by Turkey.
When Ahmet Şık spoke at Harvard University just a few months ago, he was asked if he still had hope for Turkey’s future. Şık responded that, though some say hope is a curse, he remained on the cursed side. His relative optimism surprised me at the time. Upon reflection, however, I realized that if Şık did not have hope his work could make a difference, there would be no reason for him to shoulder the risks it entailed.
Hope opens up new possibilities, but also gives meaning to the present. Şık’s dogged pursuit of the truth, and loyalty to his convictions, even while facing a Kafka-esq justice system, is a truly inspiring testament to the power of optimism.