Turkey: how the secret services can destroy a journalist’s life
The difficulties of working in the media, the fragility of refugee status: the story of a journalist that the Turkish state wanted for itself.
By Dimitri Bettoni
Turkish translation available here.
Shadi Türk is a Syrian journalist. He arrived in Turkey in 2009 with a study permit. Then, with the outbreak of the Syrian conflict, he began to collaborate with local and foreign media to tell the atrocities of the war, the conditions of the refugees, the evolution of history. Thanks to the contacts at home and those gained during the work, Shadi soon found himself well integrated into the journalistic context as well as in the Syrian community living in Turkey. He participates in journalistic coordination and support groups and, when he is not working as a reporter, he often helps colleagues to navigate in a context that is indeed not simple: he works as a fixer, who supports journalists and deals with contacts, logistics, advice. His family now lives in the southeast of Turkey, near the border with Syria.
In April 2021 the first call arrives: Shadi is approached by members of MIT, the Turkish secret services, who want to meet him. For a Syrian, contacts with men of the secret services evokes brutal feelings and memories. In his case, this extreme distress adds up to the fragility of a residence permit in Turkey that can be easily revoked. In subsequent meetings, which took place in Istanbul, the MIT clarified the terms of the matter. Shadi is a guest in Turkey, collaborating with them is an act of due gratitude: “As long as I work as a journalist in Turkey, I am obliged to share the details of my work with the government” are the words that Shadi reports he is addressed with. The requests initially concern solely his work, but then they increasingly include the activities and movements of other colleagues, and of prominent political personalities present at meetings that Shadi, as a journalist, can attend. Among these requests, to join in April 2022 a closed-door meeting between the Association for Foreign Media (FMA) and the head of the EU delegation to Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut.
Shadi is frightened. Initially, he tries to handle the situation by passing irrelevant information and by evading requests on the choice of stories to tell, who to work with, or to reveal information about colleagues, inadmissible requests for a journalist. Soon, however, he realizes that there is no way out from the spiral in which they have tightened him: “During nine meetings with MIT agents over a one-year period, I have been pressured to both share information in my possession as well as gather new information and share it with MIT. Upon my refusal, I was explicitly threatened with imprisonment, deportation to Syria, disappearance.”
Shadi, under enormous psychological distress, abandons his journalistic work, moves to the south along the Mediterranean coast, where he begins his training as a diver in the hope that the services lose interest in him. It does not happen, so much so that he receives new requests for meetings: “We see that you are better. We look forward to seeing you in Istanbul”. He understands that his time in Turkey is over, and so is that of his family, for whom he fears retaliation.
Shadi turns to several international organizations and through them to European diplomatic corps, with nothing but a single request: to get him and his family out of the country safely. An appeal that, however, remains unheeded. The European chancelleries do not take action, they stall, despite that those who support him in the mediation with European governments try to explain how the situation represents a great danger first for Shadi and his family, and also for all the colleagues who work in the country. Meanwhile, the situation becomes increasingly unbearable for Shadi. Cornered, he manages to get a visa for East Asia, leaving Turkey in December 2022, destination Philippines. Shortly thereafter, the Turkish authorities declared him a threat to national security and revoked his residence documents.
Shadi tries a new, desperate move to shake things up, involve the public opinion and thus attract European attention and help. He gives a long interview to the German magazine Taz, and he tells his whole story. A few days later, Turkish state media published a series of articles that portrayed a very different picture: according to their version, Shadi is a spy for the West with the mission of subverting the peace between Syrian refugees and the Turkish state. Personal details and photographs that further risk to expose him and his family to threats and revenge are published.
Today, Shadi is still waiting for help that can only come from the recognition of his status as a persecuted journalist. He and his family deserve not only the protection due to a journalist, but also the possibility of a new beginning and safe existence. Otherwise, we now see how the secret services can destroy a journalist’s life.