It had started like any other ordinary work day. Stuck in my car in the midst of heavy traffic, I was going over my daily schedule in my head — teaching, meeting with a few students for their thesis, having lunch with a friend. Nothing had seemed special or out of the ordinary. Then out of nowhere I had a sudden urge to check Twitter on my Blackberry. So there it was, a tweet that read, “Breaking News! Ahmet Şık’s apartment raided by police.” I instantly forgot all about my daily trivia and tried to catch the developments on the radio and called a couple of Ahmet’s closest friends on the phone to get pieces of information. His family was woken up by the police knocking on the door. The basis of the search was the allegations of “membership in the Ergenekon terrorist organization” and “inciting the public to hatred and hostility.”
What an oxymoron I thought! Hearing Ahmet’s name in the same sentence with the words, terrorism, hatred and hostility must have been nothing but a tasteless joke. But it seemed like we had all woken up to a Kafkaesque novel that morning.
In fact Ahmet saw this coming weeks ago. He was restless and jittery about what kind of a circus Ergenekon investigation had turned into. As his colleagues at the university, we knew that he was about to finish a book titled The Imam’s Army, about how Fethullah Gülen’s Islamic Brotherhood infiltrated the Turkish security forces. This was an extremely risky subject to dig in for an investigative journalist. But for any person who even slightly knew Ahmet, he was a fearless and honest journalist who never took no as an answer when he saw any kind of injustice, corruption or immorality. He always sided with the underdog as a socialist— laborers, poor people, women, and minorities. He wrote about their stories, he listened to them attentively and tried to defend their rights on every platform he could. Ahmet we knew and respected devoted his life for human rights issues in Turkey as a journalist. So it was time for him to pay the price for that like many others in the past.
When I got to the university, the hallway of our building was full of police. The search was also taking place at his university office that is located just across my office room. I shivered. I felt like a time machine had hurled me back to the McCarthy Era in the U.S. The witch-hunt was just taking place across my door. Ahmet got arrested after two days with no evidence and interrogated only for his journalistic activities.
Ahmet is currently behind bars at Silivri Prison along with a Nedim Şener, another investigative journalist who was rewarded as “Press Hero” by the International Press Institute (IPI) in 2010. Rallies, protests and demonstrations have been taking place in big cities ever since. The crowds are chanting “Ahmet and Nedim are our honor!” and “Ahmet will be out and will write again”! Ahmet’s colleagues, the journalists’ associations and the university administration have also showed their support in written statements.
Recently European Parliament adopted a very critical report on press freedom in Turkey. The EP has also added at the last moment that they have been “closely following the cases of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener who were facing police or judicial harassment.”
I pass by Ahmet’s office everyday where journalism students have regular editorial meetings with their instructors. The emotions run high among all of us. I have never seen our students so troubled and so eager to write against an injustice. I knew that Ahmet would have loved to see that.