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Plugged In - Turkey Breaking The Silence Episode 164


Hello and welcome …

to Plugged In.

I’m Greta Van Susteren ...

reporting from Washington, DC.

A bipartisan majority …

of U.S. senators ...

are urging …

the Biden administration ...

to pressure Turkey …

to end its crackdown ...

on domestic opposition ...

And its silencing …

of the media.

Since president ...

Recep Tayyip Erdogan ( Racep- Taheep- Urdoh-whan)

came to power ...

Turkey has been among …

the world’s leading …

jailer of journalists.

Plugged In presents a new …

Voice of America documentary ...

showing how, under Erdogan ...

one of the bedrock principles …

of democracy has eroded ...

freedom of the press.

Here is “Turkey: Breaking the Silence.”

(NARRATİON)) ((COLD OPEN)) ((Over beauty shots of Turkey, with the Turkish flag))

It’s a nation forged from the ruins of a

fallen empire …

A once-poor country that in the early

two thousands rose to become an

economic success story…

(NARRATİON)) ((Shot of Erdoğan speaking))

And whose leader – Recep Tayyip

Erdoğan – inspired hope.

((Erdoğan)) ((Continue Erdoğan speaking with crowd reaction))

Speech under.



((Soner Çağaptay, Author of “Erdoğan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East”)) ((More crowd reaction))

“He came to power saying he respected


((Narration)) ((Shot of Erdoğan speaking.))

Yet during his nearly two-decade rule,

Erdoğan has repeatedly attacked one

of democracy’s bedrock principles –

freedom of the press.

((Emma Sinclair, Webb Senior Turkey Researcher at Human Rights Watch))

((Continuing footage of police harassing, arresting, escorting journalists.))

“So we started to see a crackdown on media”

((NARRATİON)) ((Continuing footage of police harassing, arresting, escorting journalists))

It’s resulted in fines, arrests, trials,

and imprisonment for journalists who

question the government.

((Yaman Akdeniz, Law Professor, Istanbul Bilgi University. Founder & Director,

Cyber Rights)) ((Continuing footage of police harassing, arresting, escorting journalists…))

“There is no space for freedom of

expression and free media.”

((NARRATİON)) ((Starting with generic shots of Turkish people …

Shots of Mehmet scrolling through phone.))

Many of Turkey’s citizens have seen

their lives changed during Erdoğan’s

years in power.

Their views reveal a highly-polarized

nation …

((NARRATİON (continued) )) ((Shot of Mehtap reading the Koran))

divided by belief …

((NARRATİON (continued) )) ((Shot of Şevket driving cab with passenger in the back seat.))

by politics …

((NARRATİON (continued) )) ((Shot of Zozan singing))

and ethnicity …

((NARRATİON)) ((Shot of a pile of newspapers))

A nation where the mainstream media

is controlled by the government…

((NARRATİON)) ((Reporter being hand-cuffed or hustled out by police))

Where dissent is suppressed …

((NARRATİON)) ((Police attacking protesters at Gezi))

And democracy is under siege.

((SFX)) ((TITLE SEQUENCE)) ((Opening graphic))

Title music.

((NARRATİON)) ((Footage of November 3rd 2002 celebration:

Swarms of ecstatic people in the streets, celebrating.))

November Third, Two Thousand Two.

Ankara, Turkey.

Outside the Justice and Development

Party headquarters, a crowd

celebrates a stunning landslide

victory in Turkey’s national election.

The party – known as the AKP – is the

first with Islamist roots to win full

control of the government in the

nation’s history.

((NARRATİON)) ((Shots of Erdoğan in the wake of the 2002 election.

Continuing with Erdoğan on the balcony throwing roses to supporters.))

It’s leader: a charismatic 48-year-old

former mayor of Istanbul – Recep

Tayyip Erdoğan.

His victory speech brims with


((Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Erdoğan speaking from the balcony.))

“You have voted for democracy to

function better. You have voted to

replace a democracy incapable of ruling

with a democracy that can rule!”


Roar from crowd.

((NARRATİON)) ((More footage of November 3rd celebration.))

Erdoğan had formed the AKP only a

year earlier.

But Turkey’s voters were ready for


((Soner Çağaptay, Author of “Erdoğan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East”)) ((Çağaptay in interview, intercut shots of Turkey from the 1990s – showing poor people, shop signs showing million figure lira for ordinary identifiaombs e items, etc))

“Erdoğan’s election victory in 2002

followed a decade of immense political

and economic instability in Turkey. The

country suffered from triple digit inflation

in the 1990s, as well as cases of

corruption that were aired out by the

country’s free press at the time. So the

electorate was sick and tired of what

looked like unending political crises,

economic crises ... and Erdoğan’s victory

promised to bring in a breath of fresh air.”

((NARRATİON)) ((Early footage of Erdoğan, at rallies.))

“Erdoğan’s AKP platform proposed a

series of democratic reforms – among

them, pledging to ease up on the

news media which had long been

subject to government censorship.

Turkey seemed poised for a new era.”

((Lisel Hintz, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies)) ((Continuing with Lisel Hintz in interview, intercutting shots of an increasingly modernizing Turkey and shots of television newscasts; newspaper headlines))

“There really was a lot of optimism in

terms of issues that could be talked

about … of what could be discussed on

television, in the news, on the radio,

even in the streets.”


Music for transition

((NARRATİON)) ((A series of establishing shots of the Kasımpaşa neighborhood.))

The AKP victory was especially

welcomed in Kasımpaşa – the

working-class neighborhood in

Istanbul where Erdoğan grew up.

It was then – and still is - an enclave

where immigrants and conservative

Turks from poor rural areas settle,

hoping to find work and build a better


((NARRATİON)) ((Footage of Ismail Demircan walking down the street, heading toward the mosque.))

For many here, that life centers

around their Muslim faith.

Among them, 90-year-old hotel owner

Ismail Demircan, on his way to the

local mosque where he worships…

As he’s done five times a day for over

thirty years.


Ambience …

((NARRATİON)) ((Now inside the mosque, Ismail prays))

Beneath the dome of the mosque – in

the direction of Mecca – Ismail prays,

steadfast in his commitment to his

God, his country, and his president.


Sound up on street noises etc

((NARRATİON)) ((Intro Mehtap walking toward the hotel and then continue following her as she enters hotel.))

Kasımpaşa is also home to Ismail’s

daughter, Mehtap, who’s fifty years

old, married, with three grown

daughters of her own.

She handles the daily management of

her father’s hotel.

Nearly two decades later, she

remembers what election night 2002

meant for pious Muslims.

((Mehtap Demircan, Hotel Owner))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Mehtap in hotel.))

“That victory for Tayyip Erdoğan became

our victory, thank God!”

((Mehtap Demircan, Hotel Owner))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Interview, intercutting Mehtap in hotel…))

“Today, our country is a real democracy.

But it wasn’t in the past.”

((NARRATİON)) ((Historical footage of establishment of Turkish Republic, featuring footage of Atatürk))

The Turkish Republic was born in

1923 following the collapse of the

Ottoman Empire.

Its founder – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk –

created a European-style state that

excluded Islam – and all religion –

from government.

Secularism became Turkey’s modern


((NARRATİON)) ((Images of Muslims going to mosque. Continuing with archival shots of devout Muslims in streets – e.g., women wearing coverings - hijab, men wearing skullcap & long tunic))

Devout Muslims felt left behind.

For decades, they lived as second-

class citizens, often viewed as

backward – or even fanatical – by

their secularist countrymen.

((NARRATİON)) ((Generic shots of women wearing hijab in public – street scenes – footage of a woman in a hijab protesting being removed from a building.))

During the 1980s, women wearing the

‘hijab’ – a headscarf expressing their

faith – were banned from schools,

government buildings, and college


18-year-old Mehtap was one of them.

((Mehtap Demircan, Hotel Owner))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Mehtap in interview. Intercutting shots of young women wearing headscarves being harassed))

“I was prevented from going to college

back then. Other women could go

wearing a mini-skirt, yet I couldn’t

because of my harmless scarf. That wasn’t fair

I wish I’d fought like an Islamic warrior

to wear the scarf and get my education.”

((NARRATİON)) ((Mehtap in hotel, with father, interacting with staff.))

Without a college degree, Mehtap had

few career options.

She went to work at her father’s hotel.

((Mehtap Demircan, Hotel Owner))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Mehtap in interview, intercutting footage of her interacting with staff…))

“We’re a conservative family. We

serve our guests according to traditional

Islamic values – very observant, allowing

no alcohol … And we’ve never had any

problems because of our policies.”

((NARRATİON)) ((Footage of Demircans in office watching Erdoğan on TV.))

To Mehtap and her father, Erdoğan is

more than a boy from Kasımpaşa who

made good.

He’s an old family friend.

((Mehtap Demircan, Hotel Owner))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Including pictures of Mehtap and Ismail with Erdoğan))

“My father has known him since brother

Tayyip was a young boy. He says, even

then, there was something special about

him. He sees Mr. Tayyip as a real

leader, saying:

“You can judge a man by the way he

stands, the way he talks, by his actions.

The man has challenged the world!”

My father really likes this and is proud of

him. He believes that Mr. Erdoğan is the

most important leader of all times after Atatürk.”

((NARRATİON)) ((More Erdoğan the politician speaking at a rally before adoring crowds))

In rising to the country’s highest

office, the unapologetically religious

Erdoğan placed Islam at the heart of

public life.

Solidifying his stature among the


((Mehtap Demircan, Hotel Owner))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Mehtap in interview, intercutting shot of Erdoğan.))

“Truly, when Mr. Tayyip came to power,

we achieved democracy. Allah and the

earth and sky bless him! We’re really

happy, very happy with everything he


((NARRATİON)) ((Transition to period of Turkey’s economic rebirth under AKP. Images reflecting ‘a nation on the move,’))

Erdoğan’s appeal wasn’t based solely

on religion.

During his first term in power, he

gave millions of Turks – including the

poor and disadvantaged — a bigger

slice of the country’s economic pie.

((Soner Çağaptay, Author of “Erdoğan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East”)) ((Soner Çağaptay in July 2020 interview))

“He lifted so many people out of poverty

that I think he has therefore created a

base of adoring worshipers who simply

love him. Turks live much better off

when compared to the pre-Erdoğan


((NARRATİON)) ((People celebrating Erdoğan win in 2007 and 2011 victory))

And they expressed their gratitude at

the ballot box.

Voters rewarded Erdoğan’s AKP with

national election victories in 2007 …

… and then again in 2011.

Western observers began to see

Turkey as a democratic model for the

Muslim world.

((NARRATION)) ((Various shots featuring Erdoğan))

But during this era of prosperity,

Erdoğan had begun chipping away at

one of democracy’s key pillars:

Freedom of the press.

((NARRATİON)) ((Graphic treatment of Musa Kart’s cartoon from Cumhuriyet))

In 2004, a caricature set him off.

Political cartoonist Musa Kart drew

Erdoğan as a cat entangled in a ball

of wool.

Erdoğan sued Kart and the

newspaper that printed the cartoon.

((NARRATİON)) ((Image of Kart being ‘graphically’ slapped with a fine))

The court ruled in Erdoğan’s favor

and fined the cartoonist for publicly

humiliating the Prime Minister.

The decision was later reversed by

Turkey’s Supreme Court.

((NARRATİON)) ((More cartoon images critical of Erdoğan.))

But it would not be the last time a

cartoonist and Erdoğan clashed.

((NARRATİON)) ((Footage of Erdoğan standing trial.))

Yet to some it seemed at odds with

the politician they thought they knew,

since Erdoğan himself had famously

been persecuted for speaking out.

In April 1998, as mayor of Istanbul, he

was found guilty of reciting a poem

deemed a threat to Turkey’s

secularist system.


Crowd noise under

((NARRATİON)) ((Erdoğan’s imprisonment, crowds accompanying him to the prison))

The day he began his sentence,

hundreds of supporters accompanied

him to the prison … where he spent

four months behind bars – celebrated

as a champion of free speech.

((Suzy Hansen, NYT Magazine Correspondent & Author of “Notes on a Foreign

Country”)) ((Suzy Hansen in interview, intercut with Erdoğan arriving at prison, making his way through the crowd and entering prison offices.))

“When Erdoğan went to jail, it was not

only that it solidified his base amongst

his traditional supporters. … I think that it

made a lot of people in the population

feel sympathetic to him. People who

would have not normally been

sympathetic to him – even leftists or

secularists — because it was just seen

as an injustice.”

((NARRATİON)) ((Early footage of Erdoğan with his government ministers.))

But once in control of the country,

Erdoğan’s AKP went about

suppressing dissent.

((Emma Sinclair Webb, Senior Turkey Researcher at Human Rights Watch)) ((Emma Sinclair Webb in interview.))

“The government, as it got more

entrenched in power, became

increasingly intolerant of criticism. So we

started to see a crackdown on media.”

((Suzy Hansen, NYT Magazine Correspondent & Author of “Notes on a Foreign

Country”)) ((Suzy Hansen in interview, intercutting shot of newspapers shooting off printing press))

“People from his party were calling

editors and just saying

‘Don’t do this, don’t write this,

you know. I hope this isn’t going

to be your headline tomorrow.’

There had never been this situation

where it was one political partythat

had so much power that they were

able to determine what the press was

doing the next day or what they were

writing about.”

((NARRATION)) ((Shots of Ece Temelkuran working))

Ece Temelkuran — then a columnist

for the newspaper Haber Turk — was

a casualty of this political pressure.

She was fired after criticizing a

government ban against reporting the

accidental killing, by the Turkish Air Force

of over thirtyKurdish villagers — many of

them children.

(Ece Temelkuran, Journalist / Author)) ((Ece Temelkuran in interview))

“So the entire media was silent about the

incident for over 24 hours. That, uh,

made me angry. So I wrote two columns

about the silence and why the silence

was there. And the columns were

directed at Mr. Erdoğan.

And I was the first political columnist

fired from her job in the mainstream

media because of political reasons. And,

then on, it was, it happened so fast, the

entire media was silenced.”


The media silence would later grow



Music transition.

((NARRATION)) ((Transition to drone shots over rural countryside – green hillsides, farmland, a cluster of village homes and mountains in the distance))

Away from Turkey’s urban centers, in

the country’s rural areas, religious

beliefs and conservative values hold


((NARRATION)) ((Mehmet in the olive grove, walking among the trees))

Mehmet Çelik lives in the village of

Korubaşı, 260 miles southwest of


The region’s known for its olive

groves and the olive oil that’s made

Turkey one of the top five producers

in the world.

Mehmet sees farming as his life’s


((Mehmet Çelik, Farmer))(onscreen subtitles) ((Shots of Mehmet examining olive fruit on trees))

“I was born to be a farmer... It’s not an

easy life. You learn farming over time,

through experience. There’s no school

or short-cuts.”

((NARRATION)) ((Mehmet plowing the field))

For many in the region, farming is a

family affair.

Mehmet’s father, Mustafa, is in his

late fifties and often helps his son in

the fields.

((NARRATION)) ((Continuing Mehmet plowing))

Mehmet is 34, married, with a two-

year old daughter.

He’s been an AKP supporter since his


The party’s agricultural policies

provide loans and subsidies to help

farmers like him boost production

and increase their income.

((Mehmet, Farmer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Continuing with Mehmet clearing brush in the olive grove.))

“Farmers need government support. It’s

İmportant. For instance, when we plow

the olive fields, we’re given diesel oil

support. When we sow, we get fertilizer


((NARRATION)) ((Mehmet working on tractor))

According to Mehmet, government

programs during the 1990s – prior to

the AKP taking power – were not

much help to farmers.

((Mehmet, Farmer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Continuing with Mehmet working on tractor, intercutting Mehmet in interview.))

“Trying to get a government loan in the

nineties wasn’t worth the trouble. The

process was complicated with all sorts of

files and documents. You had to get

approval from too many places. It just

wasn’t worth it.”

((NARRATION)) ((Montage featuring Mehmet doing a series of jobs to ‘keep the farm running’ smoothly.))

Altogether, the Çelik family owns 98

acres of land, devoting about 24

acres to growing a variety of crops.

((Mehmet, Farmer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Over footage of Mehmet on the farm))

“With farming, there are no vacations. No

Sundays or Fridays off. There are no sick

days or holidays. It’s the only profession

where you don’t have time off.”

((NARRATION)) ((Footage of harvester in the field.))

In late summer, Mehmet works with

his father, harvesting corn to produce

silage – or feed – for his dairy cows.

He bought his harvester with the help

of a AKP government loan program.

((Mehmet, Farmer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Intercut Mehmet harvesting action with interview.))

“I used to rent a friend’s harvester, but

then got a loan to buy my own. The

bank arranged it so I could pay back

the loan over five years, with my

payments less than I paid to rent one.

After that, the harvester is mine.”

((NARRATION)) ((Mehmet looking at his phone, scrolling through articles))

Though he’s far from the center of

power, Mehmet keeps a close watch

on Turkish politics.

((Mehmet, Farmer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Mehmet in interview, Scrolling through articles on his phone))

“Usually, I follow the opposition media,

because I learn how they think, by

looking at things through their eyes.

However, their views should be civilized,

not mocking or disparaging.”

((NARRATION)) ((Mehmet reading articles on phone.))

He says freedom of the press is fine

in principle, but insists there are

limits to what journalists can write or


((Mehmet, Farmer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Continuing with Mehmet reading articles on phone, intercutting Mehmet in interview.))

“You shouldn’t talk about press freedom

and then insult the country’s leader.

Just as a terrorist or criminal can threaten

a country’s national security, so

can people who insult our leaders in

order to influence people’s opnions.”


Evening prayer to end the scene.

((Mehmet, Farmer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((TRANSITION: A shot of the town with the minaret silhouetted against the darkening sky with the sound of an evening prayer under.))

“In Turkey, press freedom does not mean

saying whatever you like.”

((NARRATION)) ((Shots of newspaper articles criticizing AKP government.))

Since its first term in power, the AKP

government has aimed to stifle

reporting it sees as negative or


But it doesn’t just target individual


((NARRATION)) ((Footage of Hurriyet headquarters with supered headlines of newspaper reports of the scandal.))

When the opposition newspaper,

Hurriyet, reported on a AKP

corruption scandal …

… the government retaliated – fining

the paper’s owners, Dogan Media,

two-and-a-half billion dollars for

supposed tax evasion.

((NARRATION)) ((Graphic))

Nearly bankrupted, the company had

to sell two papers to an Erdoğan ally.

((Nate Schankkan, Director for Special Research at Freedom House))

((Schankkan in interview))

“So the tax investigations against Dogan

group really sent a signal that you

shouldn’t cross us really and that there

would be new red lines that they would


((NARRATION)) ((Erdoğan surrounded by a crowd of reporters at AK Party headquarters))

Erdoğan had punished one disloyal

media outlet.

But that was just the beginning.

Later, he would prove his domination

of the entire mainstream press.

((SFX)) ((‘City-scape’ transition: evening beauty shots of Istanbul – Şevket Şahintaş driving in his taxi as night falls))

Music accompanying transition

((NARRATION)) ((Continuing Şevket Şahintaş driving at night …))

Şevket Şahintaş has been driving a

cab in the streets of Istanbul for more

than thirty years … often working the

night shift.

But no matter the hour, he finds his

passengers are eager to talk politics:

((Şevket Şahintaş, Taxi Driver / Photographer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Nighttime scene featuring Sevket picking up customer who gets in the back seat of the cab.))

“Generally, they’ll ask, “Which

party do you support?” and, “What’s

your view of the economy?’’

If the rider is an AKP supporter,

they tell me how great the country is

doing. If they’re an opposition party

supporter, they tell me that in the old

days everything was better and that

nowadays the country isn’t being run


((NARRATION)) ((Şevket still with passenger in back seat of the cab))

Şevket has long had doubts about

Erdoğan and the AKP.

((Şevket Şahintaş, Taxi Driver / Photographer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((More of Şevket driving with passenger in back seat of the cab.))

“I never supported Erdoğan. In 2002,

when the AKP came to power, I was

disappointed because I never

believed that a religiously based political

party in charge of the government

would benefit this country.

I still don’t believe it.”

((NARRATION)) ((Featuring protesters marching holding Turkish flag, chanting, followed by footage of police using water cannons to subdue them.))

His skepticism peaked in May 2013.

That’s when a government plan to

build a shopping mall in Istanbul’s

popular Gezi Park drew a small group

of protesters … that grew … and


((Ece Temelkuran, Journalist / Author)) ((Intercut Ece Temelkuran and footage of various groups of protesters.))

“They were, you know, people from

opposite factions of politics…. The most

colorful carnivalesque protest you could

ever seen // And they wanted to tell the

political power that they are not going

to be enemies to each other….

saying that we want to keep our

solidarity. We don’t want to give in to the

polarization that is forced upon us by this

political power.”

((NARRATION)) ((Şevket with camera in Gezi Park….intercut with Gezi protest))

“An amateur photographer, Şevket

was drawn to what was unfolding at

Gezi Park.

He took a week off work to document


((Şevket Şahintaş, Taxi Driver / Photographer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Şevket with camera in Gezi Park, intercutting with footage and Sevket’s photographs from Gezi Park uprising))

“These were people who felt that their

voices weren’t being heard. They were

speaking to the country’s leader who

they believed was ignoring them, saying,

“We also exist!”

((NARRATION)) ((Footage from early stages of Gezi protests.))

A tense calm prevailed for two days

at the Park.

And then came the government’s



Sounds of violence

((Lisel Hintz, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Johns Hopkins))

((Continuing with chaos in the streets with police shooting tear gas bombs, smoke rising everywhere and cutting to Hintz in interview, continuing with shots of police running in the streets wielding guns, wide shot of smoke arising from the scene…

Burning tent; protester being harassed by police; evening shot of sparks erupting on street; continuing with footage of protesters marching, etc.))

“… the police crack down viciously on the

peaceful protestors.

So they torch their tents. They beat

them. Images are taken on camera

phones. They’re spread through the

internet very quickly and within a few

days, you have uprisings in 80 out of 81

provinces in Turkey.

What Erdoğan sees this as, rightly so, is

the first real challenge against his power.”

((NARRATION)) ((Various shots of chaos, crowds of protesters marching and chanting in the streets, police running to quell protesters..))

Fearing government reprisals, many

television news outlets continued

with their regular daily programming,

instead of covering the protests live.

((Nate Schankkan, Director for Special Research at Freedom House)) ((Gezi protest footage, continuing with Schankkan interview.))

“It was a striking experience to, in

some cases, be able to look out your

window and see people protesting,

maybe in some cases to see police firing

tear gas canisters down the street. And

your biggest news channel was showing

a nature documentary.”

((Şevket Şahintaş, Taxi Driver / Photographer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Şevket interview with Gezi footage.))

“Naturally it was the Government’s wish

that the Gezi Park events would not be

shown. And the fact that the press did

not broadcast those events was proof

that they did whatever the government


… I think it was after Gezi Park that we

started to ignore the mainstream media.”

((NARRATION)) ((Footage continuing with a selection of Şevket’s stills.))

During the unrest, protesters turned

to social media to share news.

Şevket kept his camera focused on

the turmoil.

((Şevket Şahintaş, Taxi Driver / Photographer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Şevket Şahintaş in interview intercutting with a selection of Şevket’s stills.))

“At the beginning, I didn’t think Gezi

Park would be so important.

But it turned into very significant.”

((NARRATION)) ((More photographs of Gezi protests.))

The Gezi Park protests marked the

birth of a grassroots, anti-AKP

movement defending the right to free


((Şevket Şahintaş, Taxi Driver / Photographer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Şevket in interview with reprise of action of the protests))

“Gezi Park was really important to me.

To see that there were many

other people who thought like me and

looked at life like I do - that was

encouraging. I thought from that

time on, we would be listened to more

and things would never be the same

again. But it didn’t go the way I


((Lisel Hintz, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Johns Hopkins

University, School of Advanced International Studies)) ((Hintz with Gezi Park footage))

“Since the Gezi Park protest, there has

been a very sharp polarization of society

under the AKP. There’s a sense that

you’re either with the AKP or you’re not.”


That polarization has heightened

social and political tensions in the



Bomb blasts, guns, staccato firing,



((NARRATION)) ((Archival footage of clashes between Turkish and PKK troops.))

Since the mid-nineteen eighties, the Turkish army has fought the militant Kurdish group PKK, which seeks to establish an independent state in a region that includes southeast Turkey.

The conflict has killed over forty thousand civilians and wounded untold numbers more.

((NARRATION)) ((More Archival footage of clashes between Turkish and PKK troops.))

One opposition newspaper – Ozgur

Gündem – had for years reported on

Kurdish issues.

And because of it, was a target of the

Erdoğan government.

((Zozan Bütün, Singer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Ozgur Gündem footage intercutting Zozan Bütün in interview.))

“It was called terrorist propaganda, the

‘disrupter’ newspaper,

‘betrayer’newspaper. It was called these

sorts of names.

But, the truth is, it said what had

to be said.”

((NARRATION)) ((Footage of Zozan at Bookstore.))

Zozan Bütün is a 26-year old Kurd

who grew up reading Özgür Gündem

in southeastern Turkey.

She now works in an Istanbul


((Zozan Bütün, Singer))

(onscreen subtitles) ((More Zozan in interview intercut with footage of Zozan working in the bookstore.))

“Kurds don’t have a voice in Turkey.

We have opinions, we have concerns,

we have complaints, we have lives. But

these weren’t reported in other media


So, naturally, Özgür Gündem became

our voice. It has a prominent place in

Kurdish history.”

((NARRATION)) ((Footage of launch of Ozgur Gündem Freedom of Expression campaign, featuring a meeting with volunteer editors.))

Starting on May 3rd 2016 –

International Press Freedom Day –

Özgür Gündem launched a freedom

of expression campaign.

Its purpose: to protest the relentless

government pressure and defend

freedom of the press.


((NARRATION)) ((More footage featuring a meeting with volunteer editors.))

More than fifty journalists and

activists volunteered to serve as

‘guest editors for a day’ in support of

the newspaper.

((NARRATION)) ((Footage of trucks arriving and officers entering building and removing computers))

But soon the Erdoğan government

cracked down –

investigating and arresting


jailing some … and accusing them of

spreading terrorist propaganda.

((NARRATION)) ((Protest))

Protesters denounced the censorship…


Protesters chanting.


((NARRATION)) ((Shots of Ozgur Gündem protests))

Trials were set for the fall of 2016.


((NARRATION)) ((Quick transition to jet plane flying over Parliament building.))

But then came July 15th …

((David Muir, ABC News)) ((David Muir on ABC))

“Tonight we are monitoring that military

coup underway in Turkey.”


Roar of jet plane and BANG!

((NARRATION)) ((Footage of attempted coup in Ankara and Istanbul – soldiers in riot gear, tanks rolling down the street.))

A faction in the military decided

Erdoğan had to go.

The control of Turkey seemed up for


((Mehtap Demircan, Hotel Owner))

(onscreen subtitles) ((Mehtap Demircan in interview))

“We were were returning at night

from a holiday with the children, when

the roar of a jet overhead made me

think ‘’Oh my god it’s probably the end of

the world!””


Erdoğan speaking via Facetime.

((NARRATION)) ((Footage of CNN-Turk studio anchor holding an iPhone to camera with Erdoğan on the screen CNN-Turk studio reporter.))

“With his hold on power threatened,

Erdoğan turned to social media,

urging his supporters to take to the

streets against the enemy.

They did – with a fury.”

((NARRATION)) ((More footage of aircraft, Istanbul mosques lit up at night ))

Amid the roar of F-16s overhead --

and bombs exploding — came

haunting sounds issuing from the



Sound of sela…


A prayer known as a sela …

((Ece Temelkuran, Journalist / Author)) ((Temelkuran intercut with footage of mosque as sela echoes through the night))

“It’s a certain prayer that we do after

death, like, you know, death of

someone. That night, calling people to

resist a coup through prayers was

something completely unprecedented.

And it was the clear sign that this

country will be more Islamized from this

day on.”

((NARRATION)) ((TV news shots of aftermath of coup… streets in disarray, soldiers surrendering on Bosphorus Bridge… officer being taken into custody by government soldiers/police))

Within twelve hours, the coup attempt

was broken.

More than 250 people died.

Thousands were injured.

((NARRATION)) ((Kadri Gursel in Medyascope studio reporting))

Turkey’s media landscape grows

increasingly dark.

Some journalists have fled to the

internet and social media – the last

open spaces for public debate and

free speech.

But the digital realm may not be a

haven for long.

((NARRATION)) ((Graphic of law onscreen with

shot of users on computer))

The Erdoğan government has

tightened internet censorship –

passing a new law that controls

social media with fines and the

removal of content it considers


It also requires social media

companies to maintain offices – and

store user data — inside Turkey,

which raises privacy concerns.

The scope of the law is


((Yaman Akdeniz, Law Professor, Istanbul Bilgi University. Founder & Director,

Cyber Rights)) ((Yaman Akdeniz in interview))

“Everyone knows about the struggle for

freedom of expression and free media in

Turkey. But the magnitude of the problems

we have here is not known by many.

Over two hundred forty three thousand

websites are currently blocked.

And over hundred fifty

thousand news articles or URL

addresses are currently blocked.

Over twelve thousand blocking

decisions are issued every year. And

over fifteen hundred Twitter accounts

are blocked from Turkey. This is the

country we live in…”

((NARRATION)) ((Footage of Erdoğan giving a speech to people))

What’s to become of a country whose

government prosecutes those who

speak out … those who ask

questions, and refuse to remain


((NARRATION)) ((Shots of Turkish flags next to Attaturk statue and journalists being arrested, Erdoğan giving a speech))

Press freedom is enshrined in

Turkey’s Constitution, though there

have always been limits.

In the nation’s history, civil and

military leaders have exploited those

limits – punishing journalists for

allegedly endangering national

security, or for supporting terrorism.

The Erdoğan government has taken it

to the extreme, seeking to curtail free

speech and outlaw opposing views.

((NARRATION)) ((Shots of protests. Close with a shot of a poster reading in English: ‘Journalism is Not a Crime.’))

Now the question is not only whether

freedom of the press will survive in

Turkey ...

But whether the country’s democracy

itself will survive.


Music continues


In August 2020, Fatih Portakal left Fox

Haber Television on his own accord.

He continues to offer political commentary

on his YouTube channel.


After more than three years – and

following Turkey’s Supreme Court

upholding their appeal of their

convictions – the outcome of the

Cumhuriyet employees trial has not

yet been decided.


That’s all the time …

we have for now.

To watch …

the entire documentary …

find it on our home page …


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