Arrested Turkish TV chief writes an open letter from his jail cell
Hidayet Karaca, an executive with a leading Turkish TV network, has been in prison since 14 December last year on charges of leading a terrorist group.
The charges relate to the screening five years before of an episode in a soap opera on one of the group’s channels. Karaca, general manager of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group, was arrested along with more than two dozen senior journalists and media executives. Most were soon released.
Senior European Union officials - including the foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said the arrests went “against European values”.
Now Karaca has written a letter from behind bars, which has been voiced (see the YouTube video above) and can be read in full here:
" My name is Hidayet Karaca. I’m writing this letter from a jail cell, trying to reach out to the free world.
I am the general manager of a leading national TV network called Samanyolu, which has 14 broadcast channels in Turkish, English, Arabic and Kurdish, dozens of radio stations and popular news portals.
We have always been strong defenders and promoters of fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy and will continue to do so in full compliance with rules, regulations and the law.
I am a victim of a witch hunt that has been waged on the free, independent and critical media in Turkey because the increasingly authoritarian government does not like criticism as well as the exposure of major wrongdoings within government agencies.
Any journalist who uncovers the dirty laundry of senior government officials is immediately labeled a traitor and subjected to character assassination, harassment, persecution and even prosecution under trumped-up charges with no evidence at all.
It is clear that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies in the government have declared a total war on the independent media against the background of massive corruption investigations that incriminated senior government officials between 17-25 December, 2013.
Since then, the government has resorted to all sorts of intimidation tactics to muzzle the media and get rid of the corruption scandal.
First, the government tried to force our network into bankruptcy by intimidating our advertisers, which has taken a toll on our revenues. Then the regulatory bodies, dominated by government loyalists, blatantly abused their power to levy financial penalties on our network and to stop our programming, which covers newsworthy developments.
While we only had one or two fines levied on us by the regulatory body in our 21 years of broadcasting history prior to December 2013, fines started to rain down on our network since then because we covered news concerning corruption files. In total, we are facing some $2m in financial penalties.
In the meantime, the repression and pressure in general has gone from bad to worse, resulting in raids on journalists’ homes and offices, and the arrest of teenagers for allegedly insulting the president.
The government has pushed anti-democratic bills through a rubberstamping Parliament, subordinating the judiciary to the executive branch and created special courts to prosecute -- or rather persecute -- critics and opponents.
On 14 December, 2014, police raided media outlets and detained dozens of individuals, including me. The prosecutor, citing an episode that was aired five years ago as part of a now-discontinued fictional TV series, detained not only me but also the producer, director and scriptwriters of the series as well as even an assistant who only worked as an intern for some time.
We are all charged with “forming and leading a terrorist organisation” based on this episode, which featured Turkey’s fight against terrorist groups, including al-Qaida. The whole investigation, as we understand it, is based on a complaint filed by a senior leader of a Turkish pro-al-Qaida group who claimed the fictional episode smeared his name.
It was certainly no coincidence that I was tried by a judge who did not hide his affection and praise for the ruling party, which wants to muzzle the free press anyway. I told the judge that if scriptwriters, actors, producers, directors and network managers were charged under counter-terrorism laws based on a soap opera, this was a sham trial and politically motivated.
The detention of media professionals coincided with the anniversary of the corruption investigations that the government wanted to sweep under the rug. The raids also aimed to distract the public attention away from the corruption scandals.
I knew the judgment concerning me was already rendered before I even appeared before the judge to defend myself. I asked the judge to explain what terrorist organization I supposedly belong to and where its guns and ammunition were.
The judge could not respond. But he went ahead anyway and put me in jail pending trial. It has been almost a month since I lost my freedom.
When faced with a barrage of criticism and condemnation at home and abroad over the detention of journalists, Turkish leaders described this as part of an international conspiracy. President Erdoğan even went ahead and adopted a hostile position against the European Union, telling EU leaders to mind their own businesses.
There is growing pressure on the media and frankly on everyone who simply exercises his or her democratic right to freedom of speech and expression. The right to dissent is seriously at risk in Turkey. Critical journalists were dismissed from their jobs via a phone call to media outlet owners from political figures.
The headlines in most newspapers were drafted not in the editorial rooms but in political circles. Businesses that place commercials in critical and independent media are under threat by the government.
An Orwellian democracy is in the works as the government has turned the intelligence organization into a partisan detective agency busy with profiling unsuspecting citizens, intruding into their private lives. A McCarthy-type witch hunt has been pursued against anyone who fails to toe the line with the prevailing ideology of the ruling party.
That is why tens of thousands of public employees, many in the police and the judiciary, were reassigned, removed or even purged without benefits. Civic groups that advocate freedom, democracy and rights are also targeted by this witch hunt.
My name is Hidayet Karaca. I am making this call from prison. Press freedom is under serious threat and the democratic regime is suspended in Turkey. The climate of fear is having a chill effect on all media groups that are not in line with government policies and that were forced into silence.
Despite this entirely bleak picture, I never lost my faith in democracy. I know I am paying the price for standing up for what I believe. It is the price that perhaps has to be paid over freedoms, liberties, rights and, above all, democracy.
The media has a responsibility to inform the public about what the government is up to. I am at ease with my conscience as I did my best to serve the public interest in my capacity as a media professional. I did my job and will continue to do so for as long as I can."
It is signed Hidayet Karaca, Prison No 6, Cell Block A5, Silivri Prison
Last Updated on Thursday, 12 February 2015 17:14
By Jimmy Mathews
Death, even when we expect it, always comes as a shock. The SABC spent years preparing for the inevitable passing of Nelson Mandela. We had plans for every eventuality, and teams ready to be deployed at a moments notice, but until it happened, we could not foresee the full extent and impact of it all.
I was stuck in Pietermaritzburg with some SABC executives when I received the dreaded call. The only scheduled flights back to Johannesburg were the following day. It was truly a dark and rainy night, with thick mist swirling through the vegetation. It was however impossible for me to even contemplate staying overnight. And so in true South African style, we hired a taxi, a typical mini-bus taxi and set off, through the pouring rain, back to Auckland Park. My phone battery ran flat as I tried to coordinate the broadcast through the night, made all the more difficult because I was directing proceedings blind, as it were.
It was surreal to pull up into petrol stops along the way, and to hear SABC radio broadcasting the sad news. Eventually we got back to Johannesburg at six-thirty in the morning and proceeded straight to the newsroom.
In the days that followed, the SABC rose to the challenge of one of the biggest broadcast efforts ever. For 10 days, across 4 television channels, 18 radio stations and numerous digital platforms, the SABC had rolling, non-stop coverage of events related to the passing of Madiba.
The task of broadcasting the event was all the more difficult for some staff members, who over the years had developed their own personal relationship with our national icon. I, for one, had been outside the prison when he was released, and at Bishopscourt the following morning, a witness to Madiba’s first press conference, as a free man. I was at that first FNB stadium rally.
All these, and many other events, are fresh in my memory, as if it was yesterday. And now I was responsible for broadcasting our hero’s final journey.
We were acutely aware of the fact that this was not just news as usual - this was a milestone for our young democracy. We had a duty to honour his legacy, and we consciously did it, every day, to the best of our ability.
Throughout the 10 days of mourning, the SABC continuously received messages on social media about its coverage of the historic event:
- At 20 past 6 on the morning of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, Bazex Thina Phalandwa tweeted: @SABCNewsOnline I am already awake to witness history. Thanks SABC for updating us with everything about the funeral. #RIPNelsonMandela.
- Sive Tshitshi tweeted a minute before that: @SABCNewsOnline if it wasn't for the SABC I wouldn't have witnessed this greatest farewell of Madiba! I've never seen anything like that!!
This kind of coverage does not happen by chance. It requires years of meticulous planning. Other media houses had reported about the SABC’s preparations and how much went into it, but I don’t think they will ever fully comprehend the amount of dedication and love that went into preparing for the sad duty we had to perform.
The official announcement of Nelson Mandela’s death by the President of the Republic was simultaneously broadcasted on all our platforms. Our digital platforms literally exploded as the world heard the news and responded with an outpouring of sorrow. We covered the news of Madiba’s passing blow by blow, broadcasting live, on radio and television, the massive events like the memorial service and funeral, and also streaming it live on the web.
Once the news had broken and had started to set in, the real story that we had to tell was a human story.
The first part of this was to reflect the man himself and his past. We did this through documentaries on television and radio, as well as a dedicated Nelson Mandela Tribute website. We were at pains to illustrate to the public his life and legacy, and what he had achieved. The material we broadcast had been meticulously put together in such a way as to show the man behind the legend, and to try and learn as much from him as we could. We also interviewed scores of people in this time who had the privilege of knowing Mr Mandela, be it through growing up with him in the struggle, or meeting in the political arena. We showed how he touched them individually and left his mark in an indelible way.
The second part of telling a human story in this time was to reflect individual, ordinary South African’s experiences of Madiba’s passing. Our audio recorders and television cameras went to the ends of the country to speak to people and ask them how they felt, what Madiba meant for them. South Africans and foreigners around the world submitted their memories and messages via the SABC’s social media services and online condolence book. We reflected these experiences every day and night in our bulletins and live programmes, along with the messages of condolences of world leaders and dignitaries, because this was our Grandfather who passed. We as South Africans felt it most intimately and needed to console each other.
A digital user, who identified herself simply as Christella, wrote the following poem on a page created for this specific purpose on our news website:
ECHOS OF AFRICA
I stand tall so that
The light streams in and covers me.
My window with its bars
is small and my space is dark;
but inside I am Free
as I hear within me the
Echoes of Africa
We are a nation of Strength, Power and a love within us;
Hear its Echoes
as it travels across the universe
See its length as it Echoes
Stand Tall within your space
Grab those Echoes as you Pace
And feel the pulse of
Africa > Nelson Mandela
Today we are here to officially hand over an invaluable repository of insight into the coverage of the passing of Nelson Mandela. The SABC material we are donating to this centre includes the items on the DVD that SABC News handed over to the Mandela family, such as a radio obituary, a one hour TV highlights package, and a selection of online coverage. We are also donating a DVD that was prepared for commercial distribution, images used on the SABC TV set during the 10 day special broadcasts last year, a batch of 16 000 emails received by SABC News and, in cooperation with Telkom, audio messages from the public, some of which were broadcast in all our languages on SABC radio stations.
This material is intended to help educate future generations about what it was like to be a South African in December 2013. It is meant to shed at least some light on the sorrow of a nation and the impact that one man had on the world.
The dedicated SABC Nelson Mandela website is still there as a living tribute to him. It contains latest news related to him, as well as information on his legacy, TV and radio coverage of his mourning period. And it will also feature our special radio and TV coverage of this and many other events to reflect on Madiba’s passing a year ago.
I know personally how much blood, sweat and tears went into compiling the material we are now handing over to you. It was a labour of love for the hundreds of SABC News employees across the country and the world.
We are also grateful to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Centre of Memory for their help and collaboration over the years to compile some of the material – and their assistance now to make sure that the SABC material will be preserved for future generations.
From the European Broadcast Union we received the following:
”Your team’s news coverage and production of the pool signal that was distributed throughout the world was literally flawless.
…the EBU was able to distribute over 70 hours of live transmissions for the ten days.
I sincerely thank you on behalf of Eurovision News for the great professionalism in managing the event day by day.”
From another broadcast partner:
“May I thank you very much for the work the SABC did on behalf of the millions of people around the world who wished to share in the recent events surrounding the death of Mr Mandela.”
Doreen Morris emailed:
“Huge kudos to SABC news for the Madiba coverage. Poignant, beautiful visuals; memories of an extraordinary life.”
Jeffrey Dipe Nkogatse tweeted:
@SABCNewsOnline well done SABC for covering everything about uTata, I know that he is looking down with a smile and saying thank you.
Hamba Kahle uTata.
Address by Jimi Matthews, GE: SABC News and Current Affairs, at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory’s exhibition
In Tribute to Nelson Mandela, on 4 December 2014
South African scholar at Stanford questions Mandela statues
By Erik Fredner
In the year since Nelson Mandela's death on Dec. 5, 2013, the impetus to commemorate the South African leader has increased around the globe, with memorials already completed in South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, Peru, the Netherlands and elsewhere.
However, Grant Parker, co-director of African Studies and associate professor of classics at Stanford, argues that traditional representations used to honor leaders like Mandela are framed by an aesthetic of the gigantic, which does not necessarily do justice to those being commemorated. Parker’s family comes from Wynberg in the Cape.
Parker first presented his study of Mandela memorials at a Stanford Humanities Center BIOS workshop in October. Next, he plans to interview artists who have produced or are working on Mandela memorials to gain a greater understanding of their goals and influences.
As Parker put it, "We simply cannot assume that the best way to remember someone today is to put up a statue." And yet, around the globe, statues have been the primary mode of public remembrance for national figures like Mandela.
"The ancient Greeks loved this form," Parker said. "They used marble and bronze to represent the human body." It's a form that has survived for millennia. Recent examples include the marble Margaret Thatcher in London and the bronze memorial of Franklin Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.
Similarly, Parker said, most Mandela statues have been cast in bronze, continuing an ancient tradition. However, "We cannot assume that such statues engage viewers in today's visually saturated world. Most lack an interactive element." Further, Parker noted, "It is hard to imagine that Mandela himself would have countenanced such a grandiose gesture in his own honor."
The Mandela statues in South Africa, with their enormous scale, invite comparison with statues of African leaders elsewhere on the continent, many of which were produced by a North Korean company called Mansudae Overseas Development Group.
Mansudae's statues – one of the dictatorship's only exports – work within the constraints of the classical tradition: broad-chested, triumphalist men in bronze. But Parker pointed out that these statues suggest that significance comes from size alone.
To Parker, one of the most problematic aspects of traditional statues of political leaders is their scale: "There's a power relationship communicated between the viewer and a larger-than-life statue, but, in a way, that's all."
The notion that all viewers need to do when viewing these statues is look up in awe contradicts Mandela's inclusive leadership style and sympathy for the oppressed, according to Parker, the Susan Ford Dorsey Co-Director of African Studies at Stanford.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 21:34
Remembering Slavery in South Africa
By Gabeba Baderoon
“I recognized Cape Town the first time I saw it,” Deborah Thomas revealed at a lecture she gave in the city in July 2014. A sociologist who works in Jamaica, she knew instantly that she was looking at a place shaped by slavery.
What do you see when you recognize slavery?
December 1st, 2014 marked 180 years since the abolition of slavery in South Africa. Few remember that apartheid was built on the systemic violence, displacement, racial formation and institutions of social control that marked slavery in the South African colonies from 1658 to 1834.
In fact, for 176 years, slavery was the central form of social and economic organization in the territories that would form South Africa. People were captured in Mozambique, Madagascar, India and South-East Asia to be brought as slaves to the Cape, the first and largest of the colonies that would form South Africa. Though the Dutch East India Company was forbidden from enslaving indigenous people at the Cape, the latter were subjected to genocide and conditions as brutal as slavery. Over the course of almost two centuries of slave-holding, enslaved people came to constitute the majority of the population of the Cape Colony, numbering more than 60,000 people (Ross, 1999, 6).
Slavery generated foundational notions of race and sex in South Africa, yet we have largely forgotten its role in our history. Our forgetting has now lasted longer than slavery itself.
When will we remember? And what does it mean to remember 176 years of pain and survival.
Forgetting is common even among those people who are descended from slaves, like me. As the writer and literary scholar Zoë Wicomb has argued, this is the effect of the deep psychic costs of almost two centuries of extreme violence, and the further violence of being blamed for inviting that brutality. This has resulted in a phenomenon she unforgettably called a “folk amnesia” born of “shame” (1998, 100).
But it is also the consequence of a sustained system of propaganda that has diminished the meaning of slavery. Studies of South African history written before 1980 portrayed the role of slavery in the Cape as minor and its character “mild” (Keegan 1996, 16), a benign view also reflected in popular culture through texts such as cookbooks, cartoons and landscape paintings. It was only in the 1980s that significant new scholarship demonstrated that slavery shaped all aspects of life at the Cape and its hinterland (Worden, 1985), and slave labor was in fact central to the economy and the culture of the Colony.
The legacy of slavery still permeates South Africa today. Pumla Gqola’s superb and ground-breaking study What Is Slavery To Me? Postcolonial/Slave Memory in Post-apartheid South Africa (Wits, 2010) takes up the challenge of articulating the pertinence of this period for the present. My book, Regarding Muslims: from Slavery to Post-apartheid (Wits, 2014), examines the place of Muslims in the confluence of slavery and the making of race and sex in South Africa.
Once you look closely at the landscape of the country and listen to the people who live there, you see the inward and outward signs of slavery’s legacy everywhere - in ideas about race and sex, in language, even in curses. Terms of abuse like “kaffir” (a racial epithet used to license violence against Black people during apartheid but that actually dates from the colonial period) and “poes” (Afrikaans for “vagina”) form an intimate catalogue of memory of 176 years in which people were property and their lives were marked by brutality. Extreme violence, including systemic sexual violence, became the norm under slavery. Enslaved women were subjected to forced prostitution, and the Slave Lodge, which housed enslaved people owned by the Dutch East India Company, was also the “main brothel” of Cape Town (Keegan, 1996, 20). Today, the Slave Lodge is the national museum for memorializing slavery.
Seen in this light, the slave-holding period is the primal scene for understanding racial and sexual codes in South Africa, and our lack of attention to slavery prevents us from understanding a foundational time in our history. What do we miss by doing so? The historian Robert Ross writes that “throughout the 180 years of slavery at the Cape, not a single man, slave or free, was convicted for raping a slave woman.” The scale of such sexual violence is part of the reason that South Africa continues to experience epidemic levels of sexual violence today. Because of the high proportion of male slaves to male colonists, colonial society at the Cape had an intense fear of slave resistance and consequently slaves were disciplined through “the massive use of judicial force” (Ross, 1983, 2) and “violent and extreme” punishment (Worden, 1985, 4). It is striking that a system characterized by such brutal control was portrayed as mild and picturesque.
The imprint of slavery is evident today in forms of labor that are crucial yet continue to be undervalued, underpaid and characterized by systemic violence, such as farm labor and domestic labor. After all, as a pattern of appropriation of people’s bodies and labor, control over their movement and constraint over their access to economic independence, slavery was replaced by other forms of exclusion after emancipation.
Wicomb’s notion of shame shows how powerfully emotion causes us to veer away from grappling with slavery’s impact. Yet artists have gone into the spaces fenced off by contempt and the propaganda of the picturesque to recover memories of slavery, for instance, in the visual art of Berni Searle, the novels The Slave Book by Rayda Jacobs and Unconfessed by Yvette Christiansë, and the play “Reclaiming the P…Word,” produced by students and faculty at the University of the Western Cape. The protagonist in Unconfessed, the novel about an enslaved Mozambican woman at the Cape, testifies that through slavery, Black women became “poese up to our chins” (2007, 320). In the present, the word “poes” is a ubiquitous swear word, “scrawled on toilet doors, station walls and schoolboys’ desks,” as a character in “Reclaiming the P…Word” asserts, marking the subsumed trace of the sexual violence of slavery that cannot be spoken of otherwise. To recall slavery beyond the veil of “shame” would allow us to understand the continuing prevalence of sexual violence against Black women, and the meaninglessness that is ascribed to Black suffering generally - the ground on which apartheid was built - as we contemplate the global resonance of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.
And yet of course to remember slavery is not only to remember pain, but also enslaved people’s "modernity" (C. L. R. James, 1962) - their creation of new cultures, their evasion of official strictures and categories, their remaking of received practices, and their splicing of language, food, music and beliefs in ways that would eventually come to shape national culture as a whole. It is necessary to remember slavery to be able to attend to the forms of survival, inventiveness, and flourishing among the descendants of slavery. Yet it remains important to attend to the inter-generational effects of systemic violence and the interior and external signs of pain that it produces. As in other parts of the world, South Africa's history of slavery continues to shape the present in profound ways.
How will we remember its legacy this month?