Erdogan took a stand for Khashoggi. Now he should free the critics he imprisoned.
By Editorial Board | Originally Published: The Washington Post
DEMANDING A full accounting for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul has earned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a modicum of praise for moral clarity. The Turkish president could strengthen his credibility by applying the same principles to his own rule. Thousands of journalists, civil servants and academics have been wrongly detained and charged in Turkey by Mr. Erdogan and his government.
The Turkish crackdown accelerated after a failed coup attempt in July 2016. That set Mr. Erdogan on a peevish search for anyone whom he suspected was sympathetic with, or supported by, the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, once an ally of Mr. Erdogan but now in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Mr. Erdogan accused Mr. Gulen of fomenting the coup attempt, which Mr. Gulen denied. The post-coup dragnet was wide: According to Turkish accounts, 189 media outlets were shut and 319 journalists arrested, of whom 180 are still detained; more than 6,000 academics lost their jobs; 4,463 judges and prosecutors were dismissed; and some 3,000 schools and universities shut down. Since the purge, Mr. Erdogan has further tightened his grip.
Writing in The Post the other day, Mr. Erdogan declared that Turkey has “moved heaven and earth” to reveal facts in the Khashoggi case. Now he, too, should exercise such herculean strength to free journalists and others he has wrongly incarcerated. He might start with Zehra Dogan, a journalist in Turkey and the founding editor of Jinha, a feminist Kurdish news agency staffed entirely by women, that was later closed down by one of Mr. Erdogan’s decrees under the post-coup state of emergency.
In reporting from Nusaybin, a town under round-the-clock curfew by the Turkish military in its battle with Kurdish fighters, Ms. Dogan could not move about, so she began painting on her smartphone. Her art got wide attention on social media. When pro-military Turkish accounts posted a photo on Twitter of soldiers in an urban setting with Turkish flags everywhere, supposedly a victory over the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Ms. Dogan painted the scene as a dark, smoke-filled, haunting landscape. For this she was accused of “propaganda” for the PKK, and an article she wrote quoting a young boy affected by the fighting was deemed “terrorist propaganda.” She was jailed first in 2016 and again in 2017, and is serving a sentence of two years, nine months and 22 days. She was recognized with a “Courage in Journalism” award on Oct. 23 from the International Women’s Media Foundation, but two days before being honored, she was moved to a higher-security prison under harsher conditions. In an audio message played at the awards ceremony, she declared: “Write. Keep up the struggle with your pen. Because it is the struggle’s greatest tool.”
Mr. Erdogan is rightly outraged by Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. Now he should do the right thing for his own domain: Free the journalists, scholars and civil servants, and begin to restore Turkey’s once-vibrant democracy and free press.