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Turkey: Journalists, public employees under fire

Cagri Özdemir
July 15, 2017

The consequences of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey were drastic - and are still visible one year later. DW takes a look at the facts and figures following the events that have shaken a traumatized country.

Turkish soldier and shadow thrown on wall
Image: picture-alliance/Zuma Press/Depo Photos

It was an ordinary Friday evening for many Turkish citizens. Accustomed to unusual security measures in the wake of several attacks, people interpreted the news about soldiers blocking off Istanbul's Bosporus Bridge and planes flying low over Ankara's government buildings as pre-emptive measures against a possible terror attack.      

When Prime Minister Binali Yildirim appeared on TV a few hours later and said there was an ongoing coup attempt, millions of citizens who hadn't witnessed the bloody 1980 coup were taken aback. On the night of the attempted coup, 249 people lost their lives and more than 2,000 were injured. Dozens of public buildings were damaged as a result of direct hits from military aircraft, including the parliament and the intelligence headquarters in Ankara.  

State of emergency

One of the first reactions of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to the failed coup attempt was the declaration of a state of emergency on July 20 as a national security measure to find and prosecute the perpetrators.

After the initial three months, the state of emergency has been extended three times so far. If it is not extended one more time, it expires on July 20, 2017.    

The most visible outcome of the state of emergency on the political level was the use of executive orders: The president was able to issue laws that could bypass parliamentary approval.   

Since the declaration of the state of emergency, 24 executive orders have been issued by the presidential office. Turkish opposition parties criticize these executive orders as undemocratic, and claim that they effectively rendered the parliament useless.

Turkey coup attempt, men holding Turkish flags
Supporters of Erdogan in Istanbul during a demonstration against the failed coup attempt (July 16, 2016) Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna

Detentions and arrests

The widespread purge over the past year came at a price. More than 169,000 people have been charged in connection with the Fethullah Gulen organization, a movement following the teachings of a self-exiled Muslim cleric based in the US.

Dubbed as the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETO) by government circles, the movement was blamed for allegedly orchestrating and carrying out the coup attempt.       

According to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, more than 50,000 people have been arrested since the failed coup attempt, while over 8,000 others are wanted by the authorities.    

Institutions shut down   

Following presidential executive orders, thousands of institutions were shut down, including universities, private schools and dormitories, healthcare facilities, foundations and associations with alleged ties to FETO. 

Private schools and dormitories make up the bulk of these institutions with more than two thirds of the total closures. This is not a surprise, though, considering the well-known emphasis that the Gulen movement put on education over the years.

Graphic showing dismissed civil servants in Turkey
In addition to this data, further 7,300 public employees, including 2,300 police forces, were dismissed

Moreover, 965 companies that allegedly had links to FETO were handed over to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey (TMSF), the governmental funds management and insurance institution that supervises the banking sector. According to the TMSF's latest figures, the size of combined assets of these companies amount to around 10 billion euros ($11.5 billion), while their equity capital is worth 4.5 billion. The future of 46,357 employees of these companies remains uncertain.  

Public servants paying the price 

Out of the thousands of institutions that were either shut down or faced sweeping operations, more than 150,000 public employees were suspended from their jobs, and more than 110,000 were dismissed. Some suspended and dismissed public servants were later readmitted.

The largest chunk of dismissals took place at the Ministry of National Education. Around 33,000 teachers have been dismissed, followed by more than 12,000 in the police forces, over 8,000 in the army, and 3,396 in the judiciary. Academia has also been a prime target of the post-coup attempt purge.

According to the latest figures published by Genel-Is Trade Union, 5,295 academics have been dismissed and more than 100 of them have been detained over the past year

166 journalists behind bars    

The media landscape, already fractured as a result of ongoing investigations and closures prior to the coup attempt, took a big hit under the state of emergency.  

According to Platform 24, an independent media monitoring initiative, currently 166 journalists are behind bars in Turkey. Prior to the coup attempt, about 40 journalists were in jail. 

The Turkish government claims that these individuals have been arrested on the basis of their links to the Gulenist movement or charged with terror-related activities. Professional organizations contest this argument. At the same time, Turkish anti-terror laws are open to interpretation and can easily be used to legitimize such arrests. 

Apart from 24 media organizations that managed to relaunch after a brief closure, 160 of those which were shut down in the aftermath of the coup attempt remained closed, according to Amnesty International.