Turkish Paper Protests Crackdown With Blank Columns

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a total absence of words paints a pretty clear picture.

That’s what Turkish daily newspaper Sözcü is doing to protest a government crackdown on news media amid growing controversy over the military campaign against Kurdish separatists.

After Turkish police raided the offices of a major Turkish conglomerate with media properties, Koza pek Holding, Sözcü’s columnists all submitted empty op-eds that ran (or rather, didn’t run) in the print edition.

The stunt included empty boxes on the front page that would usually contain blurbs for their columns, above a headline that read “If Sözcü stays silent, then Turkey stays silent,” according to Today’s Zaman, which covers Turkish politics and media.

The raid on the publisher’s headquarters in Ankara came several days after a whistle blower warned that the government was preparing to quash media organizations critical of its policies.

In an article explaining the empty columns, Sözcü’s editors claimed that the current bout of government repression is even worse than the measures employed by Turkey’s military dictatorship from 1980-1983. At Sözcü alone, over the last year, the government has filed 57 complaints against the newspaper itself and over 60 complaints against its journalists, the newspaper reported.

Many of the complaints revolve around vague accusations of “insulting the office of the president” by printing “rumors” -- but usually without specifying which part of an article is supposedly false.

Sözcü called for the government to respect decisions by Turkey’s own Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights regarding free speech and press freedom.

After decades as a democracy enjoying the rule of law, Turkey appears to be taking an authoritarian turn under President Recep Tayyip Erdoan, who has attacked social media and news organizations for undermining Turkey as part of an alleged conspiracy involving foreigners and traitors within the country.

Last week, Turkish anti-terrorism police detained three Vice News journalists in Diyarbakir, a city in the southeast of the country, after an anonymous tipster claimed they were working with ISIS. The reporters were covering clashes between police and Kurdish protesters supporting the militant group PKK.

On Monday, they were charged with aiding a terrorist organization, although the government didn’t specify which one.

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