The Cost Of Arresting Journalists To Turkey’s Image Abroad

Essay: Criticism from European and US officials should remind Turkey’s leaders that press freedom is key to how its democracy is judged in the West

Turkish journalists (EMU)

Turkey faces an outcry over last week's arrests of a group of journalists, including two internationally acclaimed reporters who were investigating a powerful Islamic brotherhood network. They were detained on charges of belonging to Ergenekon, a shadowy network led by ex-military and security men to oust the Islamic-rooted government in the early 2000s.

By Sedat Ergin

ISTANBUL - The arrests of Odatv staff as well as journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener as part of the 18th round of Ergenekon-related detentions has had a profound impact on the outside world's perspective on Turkey, particularly when it comes to press freedoms. Examining reactions in the West to the arrests of these journalists, you notice that it is seen as a move directly targeting press freedom, with responsibility squarely attributed to the government.

The strongest reaction thus far has come from the European Parliament. The Parliament's Turkey report was amended two days ago to include these developments -- using strong language. The names of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener are used twice in the 10-page report.

The report cites "censorship" and expresses concern due to the "worsening of press freedom" and invites the government to instill the "principles of a free press." The European Parliament also says that it will be closely monitoring the situation of Nedim Şener, Ahmet Şık and other journalists who might be the target of police and judicial harassment.

Jerzy Buzek, head of the European Parliament, has personally expressed his concern about the situation. So clearly, the arrest of these journalists has become an important agenda item for the Parliament.

The European Commission breaks its silence

At the same time, the European Commission has also expressed its discomfort over the situation via Stephen Fule, EU Commissioner for Enlargement. Although the Commission is generally timid when it comes to criticizing the Turkish government, the reaction from the Parliament as well as the European public has apparently prompted them to speak up. And now, the Commission has officially posed the Turkish government a series of questions related to press freedoms and demanded a formal response.

The EU's Ankara representative Mark Pierini said they would formulate a roadmap based on the government's responses without necessarily waiting for the EU Progress Report on Turkey to come out. This means that the EU is considering taking up a strong public position vis-à-vis press freedom without waiting for the fall when the Progress Report will be published.

The developments were also criticized in official statements from the U.S. State Department and the French Foreign Ministry, as well as respected human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and well-known press organizations like Reporters without Borders and International Press Institute.

Added to this is a wave of criticism in the Western media that is growing stronger, including a Financial Times story titled, "Turkey Must Halt Media Intimidation" and a TIME article: ‘Why is Turkey Arresting Journalists?" It is reasonable to expect that this wave of criticism will continue to grow over the next few days.

The West has turned negative

That such a negative approach has so quickly taken root is related not just to the fact that arresting journalists is something the West has zero tolerance for, but also because it comes on top of an accumulation of other developments.

Criticism first surfaced in 2009 with the tax fines levied at the Dogan Group (the country's main media group, and owner of Hurriyet), continued as the number of investigations into journalists increased, and has been bolstered further by the belief that auto-censorship in the Turkish press is on the rise.

This has been reflected in the last two EU progress reports as well as the State Department's human rights reports. The most recent arrests came on top of these other developments, which compounded the shocking effect they had.

At this point, it is simply stating the facts to say that the government has lost the support of the outside world vis-à-vis press freedoms, and is facing a serious image problem.

Read the original article in Turkish

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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