MANSFIELD, PA – Sevgi Akarcesme, an exiled Turkish political journalist, spoke to members of the Mansfield University community on Tuesday, February 19th about attacks on the free press in Turkey. A few years ago, she worked for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and held a diplomatic passport, today she would likely be arrested if she returned to Turkey.
Akarcesme explains that large segments of Turkish society, including the press, academics, judges, and lawyers, are politically targeted by Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Many of those targeted – including herself – have fled the country, while others are either jailed or unemployed. She explained, “So many people I know and I don’t know are now arbitrarily held in Turkey’s prisoners, including babies along with their mothers. Being their voice is the least I can do. That’s why I use any opportunity to speak up. I thank Mansfield University for giving me the platform to represent the victims of Turkey’s massive purge.”
Ironically, Turkey is an important ally of the United States and a member of NATO. However, Akarcesme spoke of how President Erdogan has consolidated power and repressed political dissent, including an independent and free press.
She also explained why Pennsylvania is the most known US state in Turkey. Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric, has been living in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania since 1999, but he and his supporters in the Gulen movement are blamed by President Erdogan for the July 2016 coup attempt. Akarcesme concluded her talk with a warning, “When the first signs of pressure on media emerged in Turkey, I never thought that the atrocities of the regime would reach the level it is at today. That is why you should never take your rights and freedoms for granted and underestimate threats against free media.”
The lecture was sponsored by the Mansfield University Political Science Program and supported by the Provost’s Office.