The Week In Repression: Dozens of Turkish Newspaper Workers Face Life Sentences

As I have noted before in this space, sometimes intimidation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Newspapers around the world find themselves in the cross-hairs for their reporting and political stances, with employees targeted by authoritarian regimes, drug gangs and terrorists simply for doing their jobs. While it may come as little comfort to reporters languishing in jail, at least they know they were hitting a nerve.

This week, a Turkish court agreed to hear charges against 30 people formerly employed by the defunct newspaper Zaman. They face life in prison for alleged membership in a terrorist organization and trying to overthrow the government during last year’s failed coup.

The government seized Zaman in March 2016 and shut it down after the July coup, along with hundreds of publications and broadcasters allegedly associated with Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric and erstwhile ally of Turkish President Erdogan lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

Erdogan has accused him of orchestrating the coup, which was apparently carried out by a network of Gülenists in the armed forces.

Although there is some substance to the accusations of a Gülenist conspiracy in the armed forces, the Turkish government has used the coup as an excuse to purge civil society of anyone who has expressed criticism of the government or its policies.

For example, one of the arrested former Zaman workers, Sahin Alpay, a 73-year-old columnist, had no connections to the Gülenist movement.

It’s not just governments terrifying the public.

In Mexico, one of the nation’s bigger metro daily newspapers, El Norte, based in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, announced it was closing permanently earlier this month after the murder by drug gangs of three journalists employed by other outlets in March.

In one case, Miroslava Breach, a well-known journalist for La Jornada, was murdered after she reported on the secret involvement of drug barons in local politics.

In the final addition, fittingly carrying the headline “¡Adios!,” the newspaper’s publisher wrote a letter to readers explaining the threat of violence from drug gangs was simply too great, especially as there is no prospect of effective protection from law enforcement. The police have been largely neutralized by bribes or threats of violence.

Over the past seven years, some 50 Mexican journalists have been murdered, most of them after reporting on the illegal drug business.

Newspaper CEO Oscar A. Cantú Murguía told readers: “Everything in life has a beginning and an end, a price to pay. If this is what life is like, I am not ready for one more of my collaborators to pay for it, and I am not, either.”
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