Ceyda Karan’s appeal to the Forum audience against the Erdogan government’s falsehoods
by Francesca Rizzo
A wave common to countries in the Middle East region, what is recorded in history books as the Arab Spring. Millions of people, mostly young people, take to the streets to say enough is enough to decades of repressive governments. The result has not been uniform, however: in countries such as Tunisia, the movement has restored at least basic rights, starting a physiologically long process of democratization. In other areas, repression has largely overwhelmed the desire for change, and reactionary governments have tightened control with a policy of special laws and extraordinary powers given to police forces.
However, raids inside universities and even hospitals have not stopped those who still believe in a freer future. Turkish journalist Ceyda Karan reported at the Mediterranean Women Journalists Forum on the disconcerting picture of Turkey, a country at the gateway to Europe but strongly rooted in Middle Eastern culture, where Islamic fanaticism sometimes becomes law. The goal of journalists working there is not to turn off the lights, to keep the attention high, not to forget-and not to let people forget-that there is an alternative to the present.
Ceyda Karan has always denounced the abuses of Middle Eastern governments: the newspaper she works for, Cumhuriyet, is the country’s leading opposition daily, but it operates not only within Turkish borders. Karan also produced reports on Iraq and Syria, paying dearly for challenging the established power.
In 2015, cartoons from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were published in Cumhuriyet in the wake of the cowardly attack to freedom of the press, unprecedented in the West: Ceyda Karan and colleague Hikmet Cetinkaya, who were responsible for the publication, are sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for inciting hatred and offending religious values; a political rather than judicial measure, preceded by harsh words from government officials, “in a constitution, by the way, the Turkish one,” Karan points out, “that makes a clear distinction between state and religion. A distinction nullified by Erdogan’s policies, further tightened after the failed military coup on July 15, 2016. The so-called “Hate law” enacted by the authorities gives the judiciary and law enforcement special powers, such as the ability to detain those accused of committing a crime in jail for five days, with no requirement to provide exculpatory evidence and even denying legal aid. The directors of Cumhuriyet were made the subject of this measure, following house searches.
Working from the inside for change can cost lives or, in the luckiest cases, freedom: during 2016 about 100 journalists were arrested in Turkey. However, this kind of work is instrumental in getting the truth out and countering misinformation from official sources. Ceyda Karan was also prosecuted for branding some videos aired by Al Jazeera as fake. In one of these, a baby is shown in an incubator, assisted by Syrian medical personnel, who allegedly saved his life; too bad, however, that the baby is, plausibly, a toy. Propaganda activities also affect Western public opinion: the journalist warns against trivializing episodes and concepts, pointing out, for example, past mystifications in the U.S. media, such as the label of “moderate Islamists” assigned to the Muslim Brotherhood. “When you think of these Muslim Brotherhood as moderate Islam,” Karan asks, “think of us in Turkey. They keep lying by pursuing aims that have nothing to do with democracy (…). The events in Gezi, in Kabataş, the events in Egypt: it is true, there were innocent people in there, but there were also people with guns. This is what I fear, this is what I call ‘political Islam,’ which I think is even more destructive than weapons of mass destruction.”