The police entered the office of Sendika.org at 5:45 Thursday morning. They confiscated a hard drive and a mobile phone, and then they took the editor, Ali Ergin Demirhan, away in handcuffs. A few days after the constitutional referendum, he gave voice to suspicions of fraud. Now he’s in the hands of the police.
The left-wing news agency Sendika specializes in coverage of trade union activities and workers movements. It’s no stranger to government attacks in its 16 years of operation, funded by private donations and volunteer work. In the past 18 months, the site has been blocked 31 times — 17 of which happened in the two weeks preceding the vote on April 16.
Before being dragged into the Esenler police station, Demirhan managed to send a few tweets in which he narrated the raid on their headquarters. He said his crime was “to describe the yes victory as illegitimate.”
But, he added, “millions of people know the real result.” The official charge is more complicated, of course: According to police, the editor was “organizing protests on social media trying to paint the outcome of the referendum as illegitimate and inciting people to insult public officials.”
New Turkey, new offenses. To express opinions on the legality of the vote is a criminal act. On Wednesday, 39 people were arrested for having expressed doubts about the validity of the electoral process, demonstrating on the streets.
Just Wednesday, Demirhan had written on Sendika: “Why should we allow a robbery in broad daylight in the referendum that we won? Why should we allow the existence of a one-man regime that perpetuates itself on the basis of a stolen referendum?” A few hours later, he was arrested.
Also ending up in detention was Meltem Oktay, a reporter for the Kurdish Diha news agency, shut down recently by order of the government which withdrew its license. (That fate was shared with 128 other websites, newspapers and broadcasters.)
The facts alleged in Oktay’s case date back to 2016 when she covered the army’s military operation against the Kurdish town of Nusaybin, in the southeast. She was charged with belonging to a terrorist organization and disseminating terrorist propaganda. Oktay had already spent several months in jail awaiting trial.
In November, the criminal court in Mardin sentenced Oktay to two years and four months. She was on bail pending appeal until the Supreme Court upheld the ruling a week ago. On Thursday, she was sent back to prison.
The photographer Abdurrahman Gök got away with “only” a brutal search. The police raided his home in Diyarbakir on Thursday morning. During this year’s Newroz, he had captured the moment when the student Kurkut Kemal was murdered by the police in the Kurdish city, shot in the back while running away.
The police say Kemal claimed to have a bomb in his bag. But Gök’s photos show Kemal was shirtless and wasn’t carrying a bag. To the left-wing party HDP it was an extrajudicial execution, and CHP asked for an official explanation from the prime minister.
The war against the press continues with a further restriction on freedom of information, already ruined by years of censorship and purges. President Erdogan on Thursday again spoke about the Electoral Commission’s decision to reject the appeal from the opposition to annul the referendum: “The question is closed.” And those who talk like Sendika, he might have added, would face the consequences.
The opposition, HDP and CHP, are promising to fight back alongside the thousands of citizens who protested all week in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Mersin and Antalya. For their part, the parliamentary opposition have continued an independent investigation of electoral fraud, with the intention to turn to the highest echelons of court for a recount.
Wednesday in an interview with German newspaper Heilbronner Stimme, Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, proposed a recount and predicted “international political consequences” if Erdogan insists on not wanting to evaluate the recommendations of the E.U. observers.
In response, the Turkish Justice Ministry said neither the Supreme Court nor the European Court of Human Rights have jurisdiction to intervene. Of course, the government will ensure that any judgment in favor of the no vote will not be applied.
And if Europe tries to make any moves (Ankara would be out of the Council of Europe if they were to reintroduce the death penalty, said Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland), then Erdogan will look to the United States. He and Trump will meet at the White House on May 16.
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