Journalist Ahmet Şık, a fierce and long-time critic of the Turkish government, appeared in court on Wednesday. He and 16 of his colleagues from one of the last critical and secularist newspapers in Turkey, Cumhuriyet, are on trial for their alleged support of terrorist organizations. They are collectively known as the “Cumhuriyet 17” and the hashtag #Cumhuriyet17 has been used to follow updates regarding their trial on Twitter.
The Cumhuriyet 17 are curiously accused of simultaneously supporting both the Gulen Movement (which the Turkish government now refers to as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” or FETO) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed opposition group. Such allegations make little logical sense. The Gulen Movement and the PKK politically and ideologically opposed to each other. The charges are particularly ironic in Şık’s case. He was a harsh critic of the Gulen Movement while it was still allied with the APK, the Turkish government’s ruling faction since 2002, and consequently paid the price for such prescient opposition. Şık spent a year in pre-trial detention in 2011 and was eventually charged with threatening and defaming civil servants, due to his work exposing the Movement’s infiltration of the Turkish government.
Şık’s continued criticism of the AKP government in the face of certain, and likely long-term, imprisonment is truly remarkable. On Wednesday, July 26, 2017, he was allowed to testify in open court, and used the opportunity to give a defiant and severe speech criticizing the current Turkish government. The European Center for Press and Media Freedom posted an English translation of Şık’s complete testimony on their live blog of the trial (scroll down to the time stamp 10:06 on July 26 to read the testimony from the beginning).
Şık opened his statement with an excerpt from his 2014 book, We Walked Parallel on These Roads, which examines the former relationship between the Turkish government and the Gulen Movement.
The sewage system called the government, in which the two powers that cooperated to transform Turkish politics and society, exploded. The two powerhouses that built the oddity called ‘New Turkey’ and was run by a pro-Machiavelli understanding that justified all means to achieve its ideals diverged. It was obvious from the stench coming from the sewage that the day to utilize this material was approaching.
The excerpt concludes with a universally applicable critique of politics and power.
This war is not about democracy or a clean society, neither about, as some claim, peace or a civilian transformation. It’s all about determining who’s going to possess the state.
The rest of Şık’s lengthy testimony continued his critique of the AKP, the Gulen Movement, and the remaking of the Turkish state under their watch, touching on the lack of judicial and press freedom, and the brutal crackdown on civil society and political dissent in the wake of the failed coup last summer.
Şık ended his testimony on a rousing and emotional note, declaring his belief that democracy, truth, and justice will ultimately triumph over tyranny.
Those who think that this dirty system, this crime dynasty will last forever are wrong. Like all the dictatorships that darken the pages of history, those who toil to progress with the insatiable hunger of their hates and ambitions, always prepare their own ends. When they arrive at their own hells the roads of which they themselves paved, there will be nothing left of their glorious arrogance and mind boggling condescension. No one should doubt that the siege of this organization of vice will be broken with all its persons and institutions. Because in this country; Despite the enemies of democracy, there are those who fight for a sustainable and far-reaching democracy. Despite those who slaughter justice, there are those who defend the supremacy of law. Despite those who glorify war and death to perpetuate their profits, there are those who struggle to make peace and life essential. Despite the child murderers and protectors of pedophiles, there are those who work to make the dreams of children realities. And despite those who want to strangle the truth, there are those who still want to be a journalist…
That means the irreconcilable contradiction between us and those who want to strangle the truth will never end. In these dark days what we need is not the further loss of the truth. More than anything we need more truth. Therefore, I will continue to respect truth more than myself and continue to refuse being one of the conformists that deny the truth. For this, it is obvious that a price must be paid. But do not think that this scares us. Neither I nor the “journalists on the outside” that I am proud to be friends with, are not afraid of you whomever you might be. Because we know that what scares the tyrants most is courage. And the tyrants should know that no cruelty can prevent the progress of history. Down with tyranny, long live freedom.
Observers applauded at the dramatic conclusion of Şık’s remarks, but the presiding judge was less than amused.
#Turkey – Ahmet Sik’s defense is in fact an accusation. Very brave. Huge applause in court room. Judge shouting: “Stop! Is this a show?”
— Frank Nordhausen (@NordhausenFrank) July 26, 2017
Şık continued his defiance during his questioning by the prosecution.
— Milena Buyum (@MilenaBuyum) July 26, 2017
In response to Şık’s stand in the courtroom, the prosecution requested that additional charges be filed against him because of his accusations against the state and judiciary. While seven fellow Cumhuriyet journalists were released pending trial on Friday and six others had already been released under the same conditions, Şık and three others will remain imprisoned.
Şık was unmoved by the decision, responding that “I only ever bowed to kiss the hand of my mother and father. And it will continue to be the only time I bow.”
Because Şık is not an Anglophone, and Turkey’s political dramas remain relatively underreported in the foreign media, his defiant stand against the forces of illiberalism and authoritarianism will remain little appreciated outside of Turkey. It’s a shame that the wider world is unlikely to get to know Ahmet Şık, as his refusal to compromise his beliefs or censor his vocal opposition, despite enormous pressure from an authoritarian state, could and should be a model for opponents facing down more or less illiberal and authoritarian regimes and leaders the world over.