The largest newspaper in Turkey was raided by national police last year and dozens of journalists were thrown in jail.
Judges who tried to side with those journalists and set them free suffered the same fate.
That was the account given Thursday by the man who formerly served as editor-in-chief for the largest newspaper in Turkey with a circulation of nearly 1 million. Abdulhamit Bilici told his story to members of the Rotary Club of McMinnville during their regular meeting.
“He’s doing everything in his power to silence his opposition,” said Bilici referring to Turkish President Recep Erdogan. “He has had his political opponents thrown in jail. Last year in March, a brutal police force entered our building. If I go back to Turkey now, I fear I would go to jail. Over 200 journalists in Turkey are in jail right now. The government has closed down 150 newspapers to stifle freedom of expression. I have friends who are journalists who went to jail two years ago and they are still there. Judges have been fired and put in jail too for siding with the journalists. Over 4,000 judges have been fired and some of them are in jail.”
Bilici said his newspaper’s once-robust editorial staff has been replaced by what amounts to a pro-government marketing agency where only the singular views of President Erdogan are allowed to be publicized.
Bilici said President Erdogan has launched a full-scale attack on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Bilici said the Erdogan administration operates under the guise of a democracy, but that is only a meaningless label which does not apply to the dire state of affairs in Turkey.
“It’s a slow death to lose freedoms,” said Bilici.
He told the Rotary audience his newspaper had been dedicated to providing fair-minded coverage that included views from both conservative and liberal voices. “We were trying to bring different opinions into the paper,” said Bilici.
He said his newspaper, called the Zaman Daily, “had a very important say in getting people information.” He said the newspaper had correspondents in every province of Turkey and in 80 countries around the globe.
Bilici said President Erdogan and his government began to gain too much power around 2012 and, five years later, it resembles much more of an autocratic regime than a democracy.
Bilici said Turkey, with an extremely large army, was once an important American ally. It is strategically located between Europe and the Middle East. However, Bilici believes the recent shift in Turkish government could cost the United States one of its key allies.
Further remarks from Belici can be heard on WCPI 91.3 FM on Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 5 a.m., Thursday at 1 p.m., and Friday at 1 a.m.