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Turkey’s Dreyfus: Journalist Mehmet Baransu

In Turkey, there is a journalist who has been imprisoned by the Erdogan regime, and as of the day you are reading this, he is behind bars, enclosed by 3,168 iron bars. Similarities can be drawn between the famous “Dreyfus affair,” which has gone down in history and divided France on the cusp of the 20th century, and the injustices faced by journalist Mehmet Baransu in the present day.

The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France from 1894 until the conclusion of the trial in 1906. It has always been described as an event symbolizing injustice. It continues to be one of the most significant examples of the imbalance of justice. The role played by the press and public opinion is the most crucial aspect of the Dreyfus affair.

In December 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a 35-year-old French artillery captain of Jewish descent, was convicted of betraying his country. He was falsely accused of leaking French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. His sentence was a lifetime imprisonment, and he was sent to Devil’s Island in French Guiana, known as a penal colony, where he endured harsh conditions for nearly five years.

In 1896, evidence emerged indicating that the real culprit was a French Major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. However, high-ranking military officials covered up the new evidence, and Esterhazy was acquitted. Additional charges were fabricated against Dreyfus with forged documents.

Author Émile Zola changed the course of the case with his open letter titled “J’Accuse…!” published in the L’Aurore newspaper. J’Accuse! is one of the most famous newspaper articles in the world. Zola’s letter, written on January 13, 1898, in response to the Dreyfus affair, was addressed to French President Félix Faure.

In his letter, Zola highlighted judicial errors and a serious lack of evidence. The publication of the letter caused great excitement in France and abroad. Zola was subsequently tried for libel and found guilty on February 23, 1898. He fled to England to avoid imprisonment and returned a year later.

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Zola’s published letter, along with political support, increased pressure on the government to reopen the case. In 1899, Dreyfus was brought back to France for another trial. During the trial, conscientious jurists revealed a series of political and judicial scandals that changed the course of the case. French society became divided into supporters and opponents of Dreyfus. In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated in the French Army with the rank of Major. He served during World War I and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.

The International Journalists Association (IJA) has highlighted the connection between these two iconic figures, Alfred Dreyfus and Mehmet Baransu, in the world’s only multilingual international media magazine, the Journalist Post. Through months of collaborative efforts by his family and the magazine’s editorial team, they investigated how Mehmet Baransu, one of Turkey’s valuable journalists, has been unjustly imprisoned for over 8.5 years, much like Dreyfus.

Emile Zola, who sacrificed himself and fought for justice until the very end, stated, “Truth and justice are absolute sovereigns,” with his letter “J’Accuse” in the Dreyfus affair, opening a new chapter. This letter was an extraordinary challenge to the government in the history of journalism. This iconic success story serves as the most beautiful example of the construction of justice. Just as Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was found innocent, had to answer for the 12 years taken from his life, we too say, “I Accuse,” because “The Truth Marches On” (I recommend reading Zola’s titled letters, which are among the most important texts in journalism and justice history).

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Mehmet Baransu is no different from Alfred Dreyfus, who was subjected to societal lynching solely because he was Jewish. The cover story was meticulously prepared, compiling news that will go down in history among hundreds of his reports.

During our work, my editor colleague Gülizar Baki’s words, “I went to bed at night, and the thought that Baransu hasn’t been in a comfortable bed for 8 years came to my mind. It saddened me. I got up and wrote the article with that motivation.” explain the reason behind our efforts. Yes, a journalist is imprisoned for doing their job, and we, exiled journalists, are fighting for freedom and the honor of our profession.

What Mehmet Baransu is experiencing nowadays is one of those events frequently encountered in world history. Unfortunately, Baransu, who has been imprisoned on charges of “espionage and revealing state secrets,” is not as fortunate as Captain Dreyfus. In Turkey, there is no Émile Zola to shout his innocence to the world. Baransu, who has had his news recognized as some of the news of the century, has received awards, stood strong against power, and never wavered, is deserving of honor. However, he has faced more than 140 lawsuits and been sentenced to over a thousand years in prison. Yet, Baransu is imprisoned solely because he published the news about “GMO rice” smuggled through the Mersin port and endangering public health.

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Mehmet Baransu’s trial sets an example of how heartless and unlawful individuals, who demand heads to gain public favor, can darken someone’s life in the name of securing votes. The Dreyfus affair is the most beautiful example in legal history in every aspect. Like Zola, who holds a respected place in world literature, Baransu is a courageous journalist who has paid the price under “captivity” while standing behind all the news he has reported.

Just as Émile Zola bravely shouted, “We demand justice. Perhaps it is the sword that will be held over our heads tomorrow! Should we blindly kiss the hilt of this sword? Never!” we, like Zola, represent courage in places that the world needs to recognize, where Mehmet Baransu has been held in captivity. The courageous journalist Baransu, who the world needs to get to know better, has paid the price for his courage for 8.5 years in solitary confinement and says, “I wish I weren’t this brave. I can’t expect the same courage from others. But when I look at the state of my country, I regret paying this price. These people aren’t worth it.”

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YUKSEL DURGUT
YUKSEL DURGUT
YÜKSEL DURGUT is a journalist with a primary focus on global politics and foreign affairs. He serves as the Foreign Relations Director of the International Journalists Association e.V. and holds the position of Editor-in-Chief at Journalist Post.
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