Journalist Acar: We will continue to write the truth

Emrullah Acar is one of dozens of journalists arrested in Turkey in recent months. If no one speaks out against the attacks on press freedom, there will soon be no media left to report the truth, he says.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks Turkey 165th out of 180 countries on its press freedom list, and the pressure on journalists continues. In addition to censorship and repression, 77 media professionals are imprisoned in Turkish jails for their professional activities, according to the latest report by the Dicle Firat Journalists' Association (DFG).

Media professionals working in the tradition of the "Free Press" are the ones who suffer the most from the AKP policy of censorship and repression. In recent weeks, DFG co-chair Dicle Müftüoğlu, Abdurrahman Gök, Sedat Yılmaz and Mehmet Şah Oruç of the Mezopotamya Agency (MA), JinNews reporter Beritan Canözer and journalists Mikail Barut and Remzi Akkaya were imprisoned.

Journalists Diren Yurtsever, Selman Güzelyüz, Deniz Nazlım, Berivan Altan, Emrullah Acar, Hakan Yalçın, Ceylan Şahinli, Hakan Yalçın, Habibe Eren and Öznur Değer, who were detained on 25 October 2022 and jailed on 29 October as part of an investigation by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for "membership of an illegal organisation", were released on the first day of the trial at the Ankara 4th Heavy Penal Court on 16 May. Journalist Hamdullah Bayram, detained in the same investigation on 16 March 2023, remains in pre-trial detention.

Two weeks after his release, MA correspondent Emrullah Acar has spoken out about the pressure against journalists and the rights violations they faced in prison.

Seven months in solitary confinement

Acar explained that the illegality that began during the detention continued during imprisonment. He described the violations he experienced as follows: "We were taken to Sincan No. 1 High Security Prison, which houses prisoners with heavy sentences. We were held under the conditions of prisoners with severe life sentences. We were kept in solitary cells for seven months. Our right to walk in the yard was limited to one and a half hours per day. The only window of the cell was locked with iron bars and additionally covered with wire mesh. Prisoners of different categories of offences are housed in the same corridors. For example, one corridor held PKK members as well as ISIS members and military personnel who were arrested on 15 July 2016. Because we as journalists wrote about the rights violations in prison, we were threatened."

Our only "crime" was our news

The increasing pressure from the government is aimed at silencing journalists from the Free Press tradition, said Acar and continued: "The arrests are a message to all journalists who write the truth." Pointing out that pressure on the Free Press had increased ahead of the 14 May elections, Acar said, "Looking at the questions we were asked after the detention and the police summaries reflected in the indictment, our only 'crime' under investigation was our news reporting. We were charged four months after our arrest. In the file, our reporting on rights violations in prisons and the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan was considered a crime. It was not us who were charged, but our journalism. Although there was no concrete evidence, we were imprisoned for about seven months."

The truth will not remain in the dark

Acar underlined that the main objective of the operations against journalists was to keep the truth in the dark: "However, this objective was never achieved. After our arrest, we pursued the agenda within our means and saw that our colleagues did an extraordinary job to keep the public informed. The fact that one journalist put in as much effort as two journalists and that many people started working at the Free Press after our arrest boosted our morale. The fact that the voice of the Free Press, which was supposed to be silenced with arrests and detentions, has become louder and sent the following message to those who charge us with police reports: Even if only one Free Press worker is left outside, the truth will not remain in the dark.

"We will write in place of our arrested colleagues"

Acar stated that he himself was motivated to work at the Free Press by MA editor Abdurahman Gök, who was arrested on 27 April. Gök had declared on camera after the mass arrests of colleagues in 2011: "We will write in place of our arrested colleagues." Acar said, "I was 15 years old at the time, Gök's words touched me a lot and encouraged me to become a journalist."

For the sake of truth, everyone should stand up for the Free Press workers, Emrullah Acar concluded: "Those who call themselves democratic must not remain silent about the attacks. That is everyone's duty. If no voice is raised today against the attacks on the Free Press, tomorrow there might be no media left to report on the total attacks on the dynamics of society. Let us raise the voice of truth together."