Another blow for Turkey’s free press as leading journalist arrested

Bülent Keneş, editor of Today’s Zaman, was charged with insulting the president over Twitter 

On 9 October, Bülent Keneş, editor-in-chief of Turkey’s leading English language newspaper Today’s Zaman – the publication for which I write – was arrested on charges of insulting president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over Twitter.

There is now reason to the believe Erdoğan is acting even more repressively than the emperors and sultans of Turkey’s past, who imprisoned anyone bold enough to raise a critical voice. 

Arrests of distinguished reporters, TV directors and columnists have made Turkey the “world's biggest prison for journalists” according to pressure group Reporters Without Borders. When international organisations raise concerns, the government says it is imprisoning not journalists but “terrorists”.

The arrest of Keneş comes two weeks after Ahmet Hakan Coşkun, a CNN Türk anchorman and columnist for the Hürriyet daily, was assaulted in front of his house. Evidence pointed to organized crime groups, but no one has been arrested.

The Turkish government makes its priorities clear when journalists are arrested for Twitter posts, while organised crime groups who harass and abuse journalists operate with impunity. 

Keneş, who has a doctorate in international relations, is also known for publishing academic journals. Since his appointment as editor-in-chief of Today's Zaman, journalistic ethics, integrity and accuracy have been the lead values of the newspaper.

Unlike most democratic societies, Turkey has laws against insulting the president, but Keneş never mentioned Erdoğan's name in any of his tweets.

As reported by NGOs like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkey has become a worse place for journalists in recent years. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are leading indicators of a functional democracy. The lack of these two important variables demonstrates the autocratic structure of a political system.

As the war in neighbouring Syria further destabilises Turkey, the outlook for its journalists has never been so bleak. Nina Ognianova from the CPJ called on the authorities to immediately release Keneş and stop their relentless crackdown on the press.

She said: "Not a day passes without a prosecution, arrest, attack, or obstruction of independent or opposition voices in Turkey. Such a record does not befit a modern democracy that aspires to enter the European Union.”