(Read 17/10/2016 – 21/10/16)
The last few years in Turkey have seen a shift towards a more autocratic form of rule. With a recent attempted coup in mid July thousands of people in various positions in the public sector have been arrested. And with a sate of emergency in action these people are being arrested without trial and kept in confinement indefinitely. But even before all this journalists in Turkey have suffered career threatening state intervention through the form of censorship and imprisonment.
Over the previous decades, there has been an increased control imposed by the government in the media. Almost all of the newspapers are owned by the government or by pro-government sympathisers. One of the few remaining secular independent newspapers that remains is called Cumhuriyet. And its editor was Can Dundar, the author of this tragic autobiographical tale of how performing your duties as a journalist (reporting the news) can now land you and your family in harm’s way in a country like Turkey.
Can reported on an incident where trucks supposedly carrying aid to Syria were in fact carrying 6 steel containers. Inside these 6 containers were; 1,000 artillery shells, 50,000 machine gun rounds, 30,000 heavy machine gun rounds and 1,000 mortar shells. These trucks were en-route to anti-Assad extremist groups. Can received photos of these trucks on a flash drive from a friend. Despite knowing that there would more than likely be repercussions, Can and others in the Cumhuriyet bravely posted the story.
Erdogan was furious and came out and said that Can would pay a heavy price. The case against Can was on the charges of: providing documents regarding the security of the state, political and military espionage and propaganda for a terror organisation! What follows is a trial, whereby the reader doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at how the court plays with the journalist’s life like a pawn on a chess board, manipulating the charges to ensure that eventually the voices of free press will be removed entirely from the board.
Can was held in solitary confinement in Turkey’s Silivri prison for three months whilst awaiting trial. Here we learn about Can’s time in prison and how it affected him. What emerges is how solitary affects an inmate. The things most people take for granted are suddenly gone. Solitary is a form of torture of the mind and soul and it affects everyone no matter how strong they are mentally.
Some of the chapters whilst he was in prison are some of the most heart wrenching you are sure to find in any book. Whilst inside he misses his wedding anniversary, his son’s birthday and New Year’s celebrations. The episodes where he receives correspondence from his son or wife are tear-jerking moments. We get a real sense of hopelessness and the inability to affect anything on the outside. Despite the overall sense of gloom surrounding his time in prison, we also get a glimpse into how Can keeps himself busy, which can be very funny and heart-warming.
I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story for those who want to go on to read the book. But I will say that this book is a must-read. It reveals the cruel faith that awaits honest journalists in a country where the government becomes more autocratic. At the time of reading this book, there were 126 journalists in Turkish jails, meaning there were more journalists in Turkish prisons than China, Iran and Egypt put together. The sad part is that Can Dundar is one of the lucky ones; others sit in prisons with no end in sight.
Therefore the book is key reading as a warning of what happens to journalists and media in modern day Turkey, but on top of this the book should be read as an example of what the blind bravery of one man in the face of an overwhelming power can achieve when coupled with the unconditional love and overwhelming support of those closest to him. Whilst reading the book I was constantly reminded of this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”
Whilst many of us dream of living by this doctrine, Can Dundar is a journalist who may be quietly assured that he belongs to the very few who continue to do so in the face of unimaginable obstacles.