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Journalist Mehmet Kamış: A Call for Urgent Action Against Turkey’s Assault on Press Freedom

The recent detention of Mehmet Kamış, deputy editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Zaman newspaper, in İzmir on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, is a distressing sign of Turkey’s continued assault on media freedom and dissent. This arrest, under the pretext of his alleged involvement in the 2016 coup attempt, sends a chilling message to journalists and media professionals across Turkey and beyond.

Kamış, known for his columns in the Zaman daily, was apprehended by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization and the organized crime unit of the İzmir Police Department. Zaman, once Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was forcibly closed by the government following the coup attempt, accused of links to the Gülen movement, which the government blames for the coup but which denies any involvement.

The closure of Zaman and the targeting of its staff is part of a broader crackdown on the Gülen movement, labeled a terrorist organization by the Turkish government. This crackdown has seen many journalists fleeing Turkey to avoid what they fear would be unlawful arrest, while others who stayed have faced lengthy prison sentences for alleged links to the movement.

Kamış, alongside 16 others, mostly journalists from Zaman and other Gülen-affiliated media, faces trumped-up charges in a trial that is nothing short of a mockery of justice. They are accused of aiding the movement’s alleged efforts to topple the government, with baseless claims of having prior knowledge of the coup and sending pro-coup messages.

The absurdity of the charges against Kamış and others is highlighted by the inclusion of a Zaman TV commercial, aired months before the coup, as evidence. The prosecutor’s claim that the ad, showing a baby smiling after scenes of chaos, was a coded message for the coup is not just far-fetched; it is an alarming example of how far the Turkish government will go to silence dissent.

The treatment of Kamış, showcased in his forceful detention captured on state media, and the serious charges he faces, including three aggravated life sentences and additional years for alleged terrorist organization membership, are symptomatic of a larger, more sinister issue in Turkey. Rights groups have long accused Turkey of systematically undermining media freedom, particularly since the failed coup. The country’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders 2023 World Press Freedom Index at 165th out of 180 countries is a stark testament to this reality.

The case of Kamış is not isolated. It reflects a troubling pattern where the Turkish government, under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has increasingly stifled critical voices and clamped down on press freedom. This pattern, which includes shutting down media outlets and arresting journalists, poses a grave threat not only to democratic values and human rights but also to the very fabric of Turkish society.

It is high time the international community, rights groups, and advocates of press freedom take a firm stand against Turkey’s blatant disregard for journalistic integrity and freedom of speech. The continued silence and inaction will only embolden an authoritarian regime that seeks to crush any form of dissent. The arrest and prosecution of Mehmet Kamış and his colleagues must be seen for what it is: a direct attack on the freedom of the press and a glaring violation of basic human rights. Urgent action is required to ensure their release and to restore the fundamental freedoms that are the cornerstone of any democratic society.

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