Since the brutal killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in İstanbul in early October, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been obsessed with finding out what happened to the dissident Saudi reporter. No matter what the topic was or where he was talking, he figured out a way and referred to the grim circumstances of the murder. Surprisingly he fully knew what happened on that fateful day in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and even after. In one of his interviews, he shared with reporters that the Saudi Prosecutor who came to Istanbul to collaborate with his Turkish colleagues did not help at all but returned home with ‘5 big coffers of snacks’.
He and his loyal press corps meticulously leaked nitty gritty details to the international media and kept the story kicking. A few weeks ago CNN reported that Khashoggi repeatedly told his killers “I can’t breathe” during his final moments, quoting a source that had read the full-translated transcript of the audio recording. A few days later while speaking at the Parliament, for the first time Erdoğan announced that one of the killers of the Saudi journalist Khashoggi was heard saying “I know how to cut” on the audio of the murder. The international press quickly picked up Khashoggi’s last words. When TIME selected the slain journalist as the man of the year, it was a great joy for Erdoğan.
For those who do not know Turkish President might consider him as one of the Scandinavian countries’ leaders who relentlessly keeps pushing to excel the media freedom in his country. One could think his obsession with the Khashoggi murder had nothing to do with but solidifying freedom of expression worldwide.
However, by now everybody knows how Erdoğan has suffocated the free press in his own country and how he either tamed or confiscated the critical media. He has made his country competing with China to hold the dubious record of journalist jailer. According to Human Rights Watch annual report of 2018 which was published in mid-January, Turkey is still the world leader of jailing journalists.
However, by now everybody knows how Erdoğan has suffocated the free press in his own country and how he either tamed or confiscated the critical media. He has made his country competing with China to hold the dubious record of journalist jailer.
The truth is Erdoğan is as ruthless as his Saudi homologues when it comes to silencing the critical voices. There is, of course, a big difference and I do not underestimate it. He is not killing journalists yet but doing his best to punish them even if they have escaped his tyranny.
In July, Turkish intelligence service MIT kidnapped a Turkish journalist in Ukraine and brought him to Turkey to be locked up in jail. Turkish government has asked for the extradition of many journalists who are currently seeking asylum either in Europe or US.
In one of the high-profile cases in UK, Turkish government asked for the extradition of Akın İpek, a Turkish businessman who owned several newspapers and TV channels. İpek was a rich man and a critic of Erdoğan. All his fortune together with his newspapers and TVs were confiscated which was worth around 12 billion USD. Turkish courts which are now under total control of the President alleged İpek was a member of the Gülen movement that Erdoğan holds responsible for the botched coup of July 15th, 2016. The movement denies any involvement. Turkey asked the British authorities for the extradition of İpek for many alleged crimes including attempt to overthrow the Turkish government, money laundering and creating the media wing of the Gülenists. The British court rejected the extradition request. Erdogan’s allegations against the alleged members of the Gülen movement were tested for the first time at a court where the principle of rule of law was upheld and they all but collapsed.
In 2017 alone, 20.539 investigations have been opened for insults against President Erdoğan. That means prosecutors initiated 56 investigations on a daily basis simply because Erdoğan felt insulted. Out of 20.539 investigations, 6.033 were turned into court cases.
Erdoğan has the mentality of a carpet seller. He can bargain anything for endless hours. American press revealed that Erdogan was basically blackmailing Trump administration to extradite Gülen or he would increase the pressure on the Saudi Crown Prince for the killing of Khashoggi. True to his word, Erdoğan recently wowed to take the case of the Saudi journalist to the UN.
Nobody should be fooled by Erdoğan’s crusade to shed light on Khashoggi’s killing. The despicable murder of the Saudi journalists is just a bargaining chip for the Turkish president.