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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Columns

Overthrowing liberty begins by silencing the press


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Journalism has become a crime in many countries. The greatest number of journalists in history are being detained for reporting the truth to the world, and Americans remain blissfully ignorant of these human rights violations.

Turkey has become infamous for jailing journalists. In fact, the Committee to Protect Journalists called it the worst offender of violating journalists’ rights for the second year, with China and Egypt coming in close second and third places.

Media freedom is crucial to liberty. By targeting journalists, tyrants attack the reality that nourishes freedom.

Journalists in these countries face a variety of charges and allegations such as acts of terror and offenses against the state. In America, where our first amendment rights are held in reverence, it is easy to dismiss regimes with issues of censorship as regressive, but we also hold an obligation to every jailed journalist to tell his or her story.

There is a misconception that a parliamentary, secular government cannot violate the rights of its citizens. But elected despotism is still despotism.

Historically, tyrants often attained their power through votes, as was the case with Adolf Hitler of Germany or Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. The facade of a parliamentary democracy is not a sufficient defense against the violations of human dignities, such as censorship.

The current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has worked since his election as prime minster in 2003 to dismantle the deeply secular structure of the Turkish government. He has amassed more power than any Turkish politician before him, mimicking the iron grip of the authoritarianism of the founder of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Turkey’s famously secular system was a crucial aspect of its development, and there has been a  movement to disregard religious freedom which contradicts a main tenet of the nation. There are opponents of this transformation, and Erdogan has severe consequences for them.

A business that doesn’t support him will face regular tax and biased tax audits; a scholar who speaks against him will lose their credentials and degrees; and a journalist who writes against his despotism will be jailed. These frightening techniques have backed Turkey’s political revolutionaries into a corner, but they have not stopped.

Erdogan wants to silence the media because he wants to hide the crimes and oppression of his regime. Despite this, the journalists in his country refuse to hush.

Journalism will always thrive in the face of oppression because that is when it is most necessary.

Deniz Yucel, a jailed German journalist who reported on the leaked emails of a government figure and the son-in-law of Erdogan, was detained for a year in Turkey for spreading “terrorist propaganda.”

Yucel willingly went with the police because he understood that his nation’s laws dictated that he could not perpetuate the truth. He understood the danger of being the voice of the tyrannized, persecuted and repressed, but he undertook this jeopardy. His recent release has been manipulated to convey progress, but the presence of five other German journalists detained in Turkish prisons contradicts this notion.

In America, the land of the free, our president has labeled several news outlets devoted to accuracy as “fake news,” taking the first step to distort the reality the press hopes to report. President Donald Trump has met with the leaders of these countries and has made no attempts to call attention to their misdeeds.

An injustice to free speech overseas should be taken as seriously as an affront to our rights on American soil. The world has begun to turn its back on the brave reporters who shatter the facades imposed by oppressors.

The United States’ stance, or lack thereof, on this horrible treatment has coincided with the growing rise of jailing journalism. Countries such as Algeria, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Guatemala, Iraq, Morocco, Niger, Uganda and Ukraine are beginning to jail their journalists to suppress the possibility of revolutions.

Whether they were detained like Deniz Yucel, the reporter awarded with the Leipzig Media Prize for protecting liberty, or held hostage like Austin Tice, a UH alumnus, former reporter for The Cougar and veteran who was reporting the injustices and terror in Syria, or like Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel laureate who died from liver cancer on medical parole from prison for telling the stories of the people, journalism is dying in these countries and the morale of the people is close behind.

Democracy dies in the darkness, and as an international community we’ve willingly turned off the lights.

Opinion Editor Anusheh Siddique is a finance freshman and can be reached at [email protected]

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