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Turkish columnist latest casualty of press crackdown

Critical journalists accused of offending the Turkish government are being regularly jettisoned. The latest casualty is Emre Deliveli, an economist who had been a columnist for Hurriyet Daily News for seven years.

Economist Emre Deliveli says he found a statistician's study that suggested evidence of vote tampering in Turkey's November 1 election intriguing and wanted to bring it to a wider audience. But in an interview with Deutsche Welle, he said he lost his job because of his superior's fear of reprisals from the government - following the ruling Justice and Development Party's apparently impressive gains that have solidified President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's grip on power.

DW: First, let's talk about your fateful column. It was about some suspicions of voter fraud in this month's snap elections. What did you report?

Emre Deliveli: An academic economist, Erik Meyersson, had written a

blog

post saying that some of the election numbers looked very suspicious. To make a technical story non-technical, he's basically saying that some of the ballot box numbers which are supposed to be random are not random. It's as if they have been tampered with by a human being. Of course, it's important to note that this is not proof that the elections were manipulated. I also quote him in my column where he says "this analysis shows evidence that would be consistent with widespread voting manipulation, not proof of it."

My

column

was based on this blog post.

So what happened when you submitted this column to your editors at Hurriyet Daily News?

On Thursday afternoon, like I have done for the past several years, I sent my column. And about an hour later the editor-in-chief Murat Yetkin called and he said that he could not publish the column because he claimed it wasn't based on evidence and had too much speculation that I was jumping conclusions just because of one post that I had read. But I explained to him that I wasn't jumping to conclusions; I was just reporting on this guy's analysis.

Were you surprised to have your column rejected?

I have been censored before and have posted them on my

blog

. If I had known 100 percent that it wouldn't be published, I wouldn't have sent it in the first place. Because why waste my time? I was surprised, because I knew it was a dangerous topic but I thought I was treading very carefully, not jumping to conclusions or saying outright that there was voter manipulation.

I was just saying, look guys, this academician has found something weird, but on the other hand the independent observers hadn't found anything weird. So maybe we should do further studies. That's all I was saying. But what surprised me was that this led to my dismissal at the newspaper.

man copyright: Emre Deliveli

Emre Deliveli

How did you get fired over a column they didn't publish?

At the time, I had said 'no hard feelings' because this has happened before. But I really wanted people to read it. So on Friday morning, I started looking for some other place to publish it as a guest column. The Independent took it and they published it on their website. And on Sunday afternoon, just as I was about to send my Monday column, I got a call from the editor-in-chief again and he told me what I had done was unacceptable and that he would have to terminate my employment as a columnist.

You were fired for something you had written for another newspaper? Do you think your editor could have been acting on orders from above?

Even if he got the orders from above, he would never admit it. The official reason he gave was that I had published this op-ed which I knew was against the Hurriyet Daily News' editorial policies in The Independent as a Hurriyet Daily News columnist.

I have several problems with this: first of all, I am not even a full-time employee of the Hurriyet Daily News; I write on a per column basis. Even more importantly, I never signed any agreement that said I could not publish outside the Hurriyet Daily News without their permission. What I write outside of the Hurriyet Daily News is none of their business and more importantly, it doesn't bind them legally. Even if the government decided to sue them, they wouldn't be able to because what I wrote in The Independent doesn't legally bind them.

I didn't tell The Independent to sign it as a Hurriyet Daily News columnist, they just looked me up and decided to post it as a Turkish economist and a Hurriyet Daily News columnist, both of which were true at the time.

You're not the first Turkish columnist to lose their job in recent months. What does this episode tell us about press freedoms in Turkey?

It just shows in one sentence there is no press freedom in Turkey at this moment. As you say, this isn't the first time and people are getting fired for very innocent things like my column. I'm 100 percent sure, or maybe 99 percent sure because nothing is 100 percent, that if the AKP had gotten 42 or 43 percent last Sunday, then I wouldn't have needed to go to The Independent. This column would have been published in the Hurriyet Daily News; I wouldn't have been sanctioned.

Much harsher columns, very critical of the government, had been published in the Hurriyet Daily News in the past without any problems. This one caused a problem because it came right after the elections and more importantly right after the government

illegally took hold of two newspapers and a TV station.

In Turkey, everyone is thinking that next in line for seizure is Zaman and Today's Zaman which is owned by the

Gulenist movement

and the Dogan Media Group (owner of Hurriyet Daily News). People expect that Dogan Media Group may be next in line for being taken over by the government.

So my editors, they are really panicking. This is not something that Murat Yetkin told me on the phone, but they are worried that the government is going to come after them.

Emre Deliveli is a Harvard-trained economist who lives in Istanbul. Until this week he was a regular columnist for the English-language newspaper Hurriyet Daily News.

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