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As Turkey goes to the polls , in the midst of what has been called “the biggest crackdown on press in the republic’s history” , I wanted to comment about the unexplained death of Jacky Sutton before the story of her purported suicide gets catalogued somewhere as an accepted fact.
Jacky’s path and my own briefly crossed a number of years ago in Afghanistan, we shared the same commitment to human rights and feminist values, so I feel personally compelled to write about this uniquely fearless fighter who knowingly took extreme risks because of her beliefs, ready to take on Taliban and ISIS and all between, including corrupt governments and their agents
Jacky was 50 years old, she worked in the region for many years, mainly training female media professionals in Afghanistan and Iraq, all of which was the subject of her doctoral thesis she was to submit to the Australian National University. She had recently become the director of the Iraq branch of IWPR, a hallowed institution that supports independent journalists in war zones. Jacky succeeded Ammar Al Shahbander who was assassinated in Baghdad on May 2 and she just returned from the commemoration ceremony in London. She was in transit in Istanbul, on her way to Erbil, Kurdistan. Of course, she was aware that she was under constant threat. Anybody directly targetting ISIS knows that.
Last week a few articles appeared, especially in the British press, claiming that body was reportedly found by Russian tourists in the toilet of the Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Three days after the death, before any kind of serious investigation Ms Sutton’s family hurriedly declared that they were satisfied by the Turkish police’s conclusions, namely that it was suicide by hanging. IWPR, followed suit, saying “Jacky acted alone.”
A lethal silence ensued, even though a number of contradictions were noticed by leftist Turkish press that made the whole affair seem incoherent and incongruous. The haste displayed both by the family and IWPR makes one wonder what pressure was exercised on them to elicit such compliance
The unresolved mystery regarding Jacky Sutton’s death raises the question of the fate of journalists and opponents both local and foreign who express their opposition to the domestic and foreign policy of Turkey and its allies, including ISIS. Whatever the outcome of Sunday’s elections, the pressure on the press will not disappear and is likely to get worse
On September 10th, Fredericke Geerdink, the Dutch journalist was arrested and expelled from Turkey, accused of aiding Kurdish activists, whilst reporting on police brutality in southeast Turkey. She is to be tried by a Turkish court. Two journalists from ‘Vice News, Jack Hanrahan and Philip Pendbury suffered the same fate, after being arrested and jailed for “terrorism”. Their Iraqi colleague, Ismael Mohammed Rasool, has not been released.
Repression of the Turkish opposition press by Erdogan’s AKP has become a routine, as has the burning down of offices, arresting, jailing and torturing journalists, all of which is the subject of Fredrike Geerdinke new book on the subject. Until now, foreign journalists felt somewhat unconcerned
However, there were warning signs. One year ago, Serena Shim, a Lebanese-American journalist, correspondent of Iranian media in Turkey, was killed in a highly dubious car accident, nearly Suruç. She had received threats from the Turkish government after filming convoys of ISIS militants travelling freely from Turkey to Syria, something which other press confirmed later.
What really happened at Istanbul airport? A few days ago, I flew back from Ataturk airport, not entirely reassured, I have to admit. I went to inspect the ladies’ toilets – all of which must be on the same standard model. The tiny cubicles offer only one rather flimsy aluminium hook on the lightweight plywood door, designed to support the weight of a medium-size handbag. How anyone could have hung herself with her shoes-laces, so the story goes, seems well nigh impossible…
Surely the death of a journalist and feminist activist which occurred in highly suspicious circumstances on Turkish territory warrants some kind of independent in-depth inquest.Turkey may not be directly responsible , but whatever happened did take place on its soil, in one of its institutions, surely aided and abetted by someone who had the power to do so… The country’s unconditional support of ISIS, despite its grandiloquent promises to NATO and the EU is hardly news, nor is Ankara’s open war against any kind of opposition. Add to that the notorious opacity of any form of investigation by Turkish authorities following any incident which might involve their responsibility and you have elements that should have compelled the British government to order an immediate enquiry on the death of a British citizen…
Instead we have had total silence from the media, press associations and state institutions (including the British Foreign Office) which amounts to a form of unacceptable connivance with Turkish authorities. Those who feel passionately about free speech, democracy, the role of the press and responsible academia need to insist, because what happened to Jacky can happen to anyone-in Turkey, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Iran, anywhere where governments feel that human rights are purely cosmetic and accountability does not exist. Which is why we should insist on precisely that, accountability in a country now infamous for its unprecedented violence against the press.
Could it be that this blanking-out is part of the concessions that the EU has agreed upon, in exchange of getting Ankara to keep Syrian refugees on their territory? The truth about the killing of one remarkable feminist fighter traded off against a few thousand refugees less on European-and British soil?
(I published a French version of this article in Mediapart)