Big Brother visits Turkey - Again

Democratic ideals and freedom under withering Turkish fire. 'Partly free' - the assault on the Turkish press. Photo: AP Images

DALLAS, July 4, 2012 - If you’re a working stiff with a drinking problem, it’s always five o’clock somewhere. If you’re a human rights activist, it’s always 1984. July 4th is a good day to remember 1984.

1984 is the year that won’t die, won’t go away, and won’t be relegated to the pages of history. It’s the tale that won’t end, the story that’s always lurking in the future, maybe a future coming to a government near you. It’s a saga written in hundreds of languages with an infinite number of sub-plots all controlled by a single, irreconcilable dynamic. State versus individual.

Today, Orwell’s nightmarish vision of government control morphs into reality hundreds of times a year. Yesterday, it put in a brief appearance in Turkey.

Ahmet Şık is a reporter who was just recently released from prison. His latest book entitled Pusu – Devletin Yeni Sahipleri (Ambush – The State’s New Owners) was released yesterday, and to celebrate the auspicious occasion, a state prosecutor with too much time on his hands and an impaired sense of justice delivered a new indictment to the 2nd Silivri Criminal Court of First Instance charging Şık with “making threats” and “insulting public officials by reason of their public duties.”

The indictment names 39 judges and prosecutors as victims in the case and recommends a prison sentence of between 3 and 7 years.

Insulting public officials? That’s a crime? Reminds me of an Obama joke, or two…

Q: What does Barack Obama call lunch with a convicted felon?
A: A fund raiser.

Q: What’s the difference between Obama’s cabinet and a penitentiary?
A: One is filled with tax evaders, blackmailers and threats to society. The other is for housing prisoners.

You see, we don’t prosecute people in the US for insulting politicians. Maybe this is an area in which the criminal code needs to be strengthened, something for our do-nothing Congress to do. In fact, it’s almost imperative they do something because insulting politicians has become a national pastime that threatens the future of baseball. Back to Turkey…

Apparently, a year in jail didn’t cow Şık into submission. I wonder if maybe Turkish prisons shouldn’t include an adult continuing education class for their political inmates entitled ‘Tact and Other Sundry Strategies for Staying Out of Jail.’ There’s clearly a need.

What did Şık say to raise the righteous indignation of aforementioned under-employed state prosecutor?

In a statement on March 16th when he was released from prison pending trial, Şık said, “The police, judges and prosecutors who plotted and executed this conspiracy will be incarcerated in this prison. When they enter this prison, justice will be served.”

You got to hand to him. The man doesn’t pull punches. Maybe someone should suggest a career in boxing instead of journalism in Turkey…

Look, this is a reporter who spent a year in jail and has just released a book called “Ambush”. Apparently, he does believe that he is the victim of a conspiracy. If it’s true, it’s a travesty. If it’s false, it’s still his opinion and voicing that opinion shouldn’t land him in jail, at least not in a democratic country with safe-guards on free speech. Is Turkey such a country? I checked with the experts.

Freedom House is a well-respected NGO that monitors freedom around the world. In its 2012 freedom of the press ranking Turkey placed 117th out of 192 countries with nations like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Nicaragua scoring higher. Freedom House describes Turkey as ‘partly free’.

That sounds like a good description for a dog on a leash, but somehow rings false when it comes to ‘inalienable’ human rights. Partly free? Is that like ‘partly human’, or ‘partly unadulterated’?

According to the Journalists Union of Turkey, there are currently ninety-four reporters being held in prison for practicing their profession. More than half are members of the Kurdish minority, the country’s second largest ethnic group. The Kurds have fought for greater freedom ever since the Turkish republic was founded in 1923.

Şık’s new book probably won’t be coming to a bookstore near you any time soon, but the teaser on the back cover says:

“The most wide-reaching case (Ergenekon) in Turkey began in the hope that the threat of military coup, which lay over the country like a shadow, would be removed and that the country would become more democratic. The reporter who wrote a book about these charges realized that this was not the case at all, and he saw that in the shadow of these operations, which followed one another in waves, there was a war being waged to control the shadow government.”

Hopefully, the indictment against Şık will be rejected by the court. If his book and his statements are delusional ramblings, certainly a powerful, modern nation like Turkey will not be brought down by these falsehoods. The government already knows that, doesn’t it?  

Şık’s one-year imprisonment and now these new charges only serve to confirm suspicions that he is actually on to something, in which case, the indictment is state intimidation pure and simple. If Şık is right, or even partly right, there is a major tectonic shift coming to Turkey’s relations with the West.

This is not what Turkey deserves.  

A few weeks ago, this column brought to your attention the plight of Fazıl Say, the world-renowned classical musician who is facing charges for insulting Islam. Is there a theme emerging here?

The Turkish bureaucracy’s obsession with insults and honor doesn’t play well in the West. It’s bad form to take oneself so seriously, to be so thin skinned. The role of Big Brother may seem like a natural fit in a land where ‘big brothership’ (abilik) is woven into the warp and weft of society, but these tantrums are more likely to conjure up images of a spoiled brat than a respectable state bureaucracy.


Luke Montgomery, author of A Deceit To Die For, lived in the Middle East for over a decade. He holds an MA in Linguistics, speaks fluent Turkish and writes on foreign policy, religion and culture. You can follow his work at, or find him on Twitter at @LookingFor_Luke and on Facebook.


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Luke Montgomery

Author and researcher Luke Montgomery grew up on the ancient hunting grounds of the Mescalero Apaches, where he cut his teeth on tales of Geronimo’s exploits, supped with Viking heroes in Valhalla and embarked on exhilarating voyages with Odysseus. Somewhere along the way, he grew older, but he didn't grow up. After obtaining his MA in Linguistics, he set a course for adventure in Europe and the Middle East, where he lived for over a decade combing Hittite, Phrygian, Lycian, Greek and Roman ruins on the shores of the Mediterranean and Aegean.   Eventually, he returned to the land of liberty at what he considers its most crucial hour to take up his post in the defense of individual liberty. When he is not consulting private and public institutions with interests and operations in the Middle East, he tends grapes, raises Longhorn cattle and researches public policy, especially as it relates to culture. As an expert on Islam, he spends much of his time researching and writing about religious politics. Some of the people and works that have shaped his worldview are Emily Dickinson, Rudyard Kipling, Atlas Shrugged, C. S. Lewis, Anton Chekhov, Omar Khayyam, LOTR, the Torah, O. Henry, The Ballad of the White Horse, Bruce Cockburn, George Orwell, Yaşar Kemal, Aziz Nesin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Yeshua... You can follow his work at , or find him on Twitter at LukeM_author and on Facebook



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