Vandaag vindt een volgende zitting plaats van het Cumhuriyetproces in Turkije. 17 medewerkers van de krant worden beschuldigd van banden met het terrorisme, maar het is voor iedereen duidelijk dat dit slechts een manier is om kritische journalisten de mond te snoeren. Vijf van de betrokken journalisten zitten al meer dan 9 maanden in voorarrest. De hoop is dat de rechter vandaag ook deze vijf journalisten vrijlaat, nadat in juli al zeven onder hen in voorlopige vrijheid waren gesteld. Enkele andere medewerkers van de krant waren al vrij of verblijven in ballingschap in het buitenland. De hoop is verder dat de rechter vandaag een (gunstige) definitieve uitspraak doet in het proces, zodat de zeventien beklaagden hun leven weer kunnen oppakken. Ook deze keer stuurt PEN Vlaanderen een afgevaardigde als waarnemer naar het proces. Het Cumhuriyetproces is het grootste in zijn soort in Turkije, waar meer dan 150 journalisten om politiek redenen gevangen zitten.
In aanloop van deze zitting en op uitnodiging van de krant Cumhuriyet, schreef Vice-voorzitter Isabelle Rossaert een opiniestuk dat vandaag, samen met dat van vele anderen, gepubliceerd is in Cumhuriyet.
A strong leader welcomes strong critics
During the July sessions of the Cumhuriyet trial, as a Belgian, I have been confronted for the first time
in real life with something completely unfamiliar to me. With people being kept for many, many
months in pre-trial detention. As if it is a normal thing that you keep people in jail, away from their
families, their spouses, children, friends, away from their jobs and means of getting an income,
without any proven guilt. Even more remarkable was the fact that the concrete evidence gathered
against these people, used as proof to sustain the indictment against them, was based on very
common daily life actions like paying a timberman to lay a new floor in your house or calling a pitta
restaurant to order some breads or a travel agency to schedule a family holiday. Or like using a
strong headliner for your newspaper article or paying phone calls to people you want to interview for
such an article or, even stranger, being called by somebody, as if one can control by whom one is
called. Or changing an editorial policy, as if there is any crime in changing an editorial policy, if that
has happened at all. Actually, to the outsider that I am, these so called means of evidence meant
nothing more than proofs that these people were living a life and doing their jobs well. One can only
conclude that the real reason why these people were kept in jail, for so long, and with so little
evidence against them, was to keep them out of business, that is, to keep them out of doing their
jobs as critical journalists.
And then the question is: why would a government want that? A strong government is not afraid of
critics. It welcomes them, since critical voices are the real touchstones of its policy. Critical voices
show governments the flaws they might fail to see, so they can work on it in order to become even
better and stronger. A strong leadership doesn’t show its strength by silencing its opponents, but by
listening to them, giving them the freedom to challenge him and showing that he is able to cope with
Furthermore, like a garden needs different plants and flowers, not only to be beautiful, but also to be
healthy and not perish, so a society needs different voices. The more voices can be heard, the more
beautiful, but also the healthier a society is. That is why we, as PEN Belgium, plead for a plurality of
voices in Turkey. And that is why we ask the government and the judiciary to do the most normal
thing: give the Cumhuriyet journalists, as well as all other writers, journalists and academics that are
in jail at this moment without any proven guilt, back their freedom. So they can do their jobs, and
doing so help the Turkish society to be a strong, prosperous and healthy one.
Vice-president PEN Belgium/Flanders