Mar 12

The release of Nedim Sener in Turkey – did an international fuss work for once?

From time to time the authorities intent on locking up journalists have second thoughts and we should mark it when they do. So it was this week when a Turkish court released Nedim Sener and three other journalists arrested in the Oda TV case connected to the (allegedly enormous) “Ergenekon” conspiracy.

Sener and several colleagues had been held for a year and had been the focus of a noisy international campaign, led outside Turkey by the International Press Institute. It’s easy for organisations like IPI to believe that while it may be their duty to protest and lobby when journalists are put in the slammer because of the opinions they hold, the results of such campaigns tend all the same to be meagre. So celebrations are in order when it seems to work. Sener was arrested a year ago this month, named a Press Freedom Hero by IPI in June 2010 and released nine months later. You can’t prove the causal connection, but….

It certainly seems to have made a difference to Sener’s time in jail. IPI director Alison Bethel Mackenzie said yesterday that Sener and his wife “today mentioned over and over and over again the impact of the letters that poured in from all over the world from IPI members and supporters, as well as the letters that were sent on behalf of the IPI board of directors and, separately, from the World Press Freedom Heroes. He also said that he had heard that board members sent letters to Turkish embassies in their home countries. He was very moved by that.”

The Ergenekon conspiracy trials are likely to run for years. Sener and three others are due back in court in June; six more defendants, mostly journalists, are still in custody (a taste of the arguments generated here) . Hundreds of people have been arrested for what is routinely described as a “conspiracy” to bring down the governing Justice and Development (AK) party led by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I am not an expert on Turkey and no doubt there are no doubt parts of this complex story that I’m liable to misunderstand. But when I see a government arresting hundreds of people and constantly enlarging the scope of what cannot possibly have been any kind of efficient “conspiracy” – simply because the numbers claimed are so large – a warning light goes off in my head. Isn’t the alleged existence of this vast, all-connected conspiracy a bit too convenient to be plausible? (It predates Sener’s arrest and centres on the murder of Sener’s friend Hrant Dink, but there’s an excellent essay by British Turkey expert Maureen Freely on the complex politics of journalism and free expression in the country’s “embattled half-democracy”.)

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Aug 10

R W Johnson on South African media law

Illuminating and characteristically trenchant piece in Standpoint magazine from the very knowledgeable R W Johnson about the background to the proposed new media laws in South Africa (first posted about here). Johnson, who lives in South Africa, is precisely the kind of politically incorrect writer at whom these new laws are aimed.

Johnson, an academic-turned-journalist who is incapable of turning a sentence which doesn’t make somebody somewhere indignant, refers to rows that have been going on about his writing about South Africa in the London Review of Books. Coverage here.

In my earlier post about South Africa, I said that South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma was once of a very small number of politicians who had been idiotic enough to sue a cartoonist. I did not know at the time that this select band also includes the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It may not be a coincidence that Turkey’s political class has authoritarian instincts not unlike those of South Africa’s ANC.