Freedom of the Press and Expression in Turkey We Must Remain Defiant
For 200 days now, Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel has been held in jail in Turkey. But the madness won't become routine just because time has passed.
In some quarters, people tend to exaggerate when they speak of the importance of journalism. It is true, though, that journalism is necessary in a pluralistic society. The fourth estate exposes abuses, condemns undesirable developments, highlights different perspectives and reveals possible ways forward. Articles, editorials and analysis pieces invite us to inform ourselves, but they also present us with new perspectives. Perspectives we agree with, but also those we don't; perspectives that may anger us and that we find incorrect. Even perspectives that we might find objectionable.
A spirit of defiance is inherent to democracy. This defiance is its strength. People can say, "yeah, so what!" when they don't like the opinions and views of others. Democracy is powerful enough to withstand these differences of opinion. Moreover, it demands them. Elections are no less than the manifestation of the fact that there are differences of opinion over what is right and what is wrong. The limits are defined by laws that are executed by independent courts. Democracy ensures peace by promoting tolerance - through freedom of expression and the free press.
Democracy can also be uncomfortable because it tells us: "You have to tolerate other opinions." Because there is something greater at stake than our own egos. What, though, does it say about the political elite when contrary political opinions are viewed as the greatest threat facing the country and those holding such opinions are persecuted. When the powers that be seek to eliminate contradiction and criticism by locking those who express such sentiment away in jail? As though one could silence critique by doing so?
A political system that views critics as the greatest evil has lost all perspective. It no longer pursues a larger, nobler goal. The only goal at that point is holding on to power. But that power is hollow if it doesn't serve the well-being of all.
There's More than One Truth
Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, the Turkey correspondent for the German national daily Die Welt, has been in jail for 200 days now. With no charges against him. With no proceedings. Like so many other critical journalists, he has been accused of disseminating terrorist propaganda. The case says a lot about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and about Turkey's political mores. About its relationship with Germany. With the arrest of journalists Yücel and Mesale Tolus, also a Turkish-German, as well as human rights activist Peter Steudtner, Turkish leaders have shown Germany, a country that respects the rule of law, the middle finger. The detainees - and not just the German ones - are being exploited by Turkish politicians. "Journalism that seeks the truth ... has become a crime in the eyes of Erdogan's government," Turkish-German novelist Dogan Akhanli wrote in an editorial on SPIEGEL ONLINE on Thursday. Meanwhile, Mesale Tolu's father says: "Erdogan has taken my daughter hostage."
Deniz Yücel is allowed to exercise in the prison courtyard for one hour each week and he is permitted to talk on the phone for 10 minutes once every two weeks, his wife Dilek Mayatürk-Yücel said in an interview. The rest of his time is spent in solitary confinement. In fairy tales, it is called perdition. It is an unfathomable state of affairs for those of us who live in freedom. For those of us free to determine our own daily lives. In the time since Deniz Yücel's arrest, German chancellor candidate Martin Schulz has seen his chances of defeating Angela Merkel wax and wane. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl passed away, France elected Emmanuel Macron as its new president and North Korea has conducted missile launches. The world is a different place than it was on Feb. 14. All of us have conducted countless conversations during that time - good ones, but also unpleasant ones. Yücel and the other detainees have been denied that right -- because a government has presumed to decide that that which it finds inconvenient cannot be true.
People can get used to madness. To the next German who is thrown in jail in Turkey. To the next intellectual who is persecuted. Our adaptability allows us to withstand a lot. But we cannot allow ourselves to become dulled. We cannot allow Erdogan to shape what is normal. We must remain defiant.