ECPMF JiR – Cihan Yücel

“We always need solidarity” – Interview with independent Turkish journalist Metin Cihan

Metin Cihan is a Turkish social media journalist who started  his investigative work eight years ago as a freelancer.  He shares his work on Twitter to more than 300,000 followers. Metin now faces charges in Turkey for his work but still reports about Turkey from abroad.

How did you get involved with journalism at first?

I don’t have an educational background in journalism and I didn’t work as a professional journalist. Actually, I had a freelance job which started eight years ago. I used social media, especially Twitter, to follow the events in my country. In Turkey almost all of the major media companies belong to the government or pro-government entities. So social media was very important during the last years in Turkey, because sometimes it is the only way to get news, to know the truth, and to get other information. 


Eight years ago, I started to report on things that I was curious about, and I investigated them on the internet. I visited some resistance [movements] in Turkey; resistance for the environment, for animals, for people, for workers. I took photos or videos from them and started to share them on my Twitter account. That was the beginning. My account started to grow with followers. Then I found some sensational news, which resembled investigative journalism. One of them was about a scam in Turkey. There are Ponzi systems to take people’s money, which grow and then collapse. The boss of one of these organisations took money from 10,000 people and fled the country. I was thinking about where he could be. I heard something so I searched and I found him on social media driving a Ferrari in Montevideo, Uruguay. It was on social media in Uruguay, but they didn’t know who he was, they just talked about a Ferrari in Montevideo. I found him. I knew who he was and my account started to get bigger. 


Then, in 2019 there was a murder a suspicious death of an 11 year old girl who was in the north of Turkey. I noticed that there was allegedly a connection with the family of the mayor of the town. It was corrupt and they tried to cover up the case. They said it was a suicide but it was impossible physically and in all aspects, impossible. I started to investigate, connecting with the family and publishing. The mayor of the town was from the governing party. The claim of the father was that the Defence Minister of Turkey at this time was the number one person to cover up the case because he was from the same town. They had connections like a small mafia of the town. After that, everything changed for me. 


Usually, I wasn’t a very political figure on Twitter. I had all kinds of followers, but this time the government started to attack me on social media. They labeled me as a terrorist. Then they started a prosecution investigation about me and it seemed like they would arrest me. It’s a general method to arrest journalists and let them stay one year in prison without indictment, pending trial. You don’t know the charges against you. After one year usually you will be free without any punishment, but it’s their way to punish you, the imprisonment without trial. You can’t report on anything, you can’t do your job anymore, you need to stay in prison. Some of my journalist friends are in prison now. I decided to leave [Turkey]. Germany is my sixth country. I spent time in other countries to follow what’s happening in Turkey and my case, but everything started to get worse. I continued to produce journalism from outside of the country thanks to ECPMF, but it means more court trials and investigations about me. 


Today, right now, there is another trial. There is a decision about [my arrest]. It was another corruption case, with a whistleblower. He sent me some documents about the son of the President’s organisation it’s like a parallel state. They took young and usually poor people in pro-government dormitories, who then have a very islamic education. They have lists of them and I found the list. [The lists said:] “You will be a police officer at this position, you will be a soldier or a general in this place, you will be a prosecutor, a judge”. So right now there is a court trial in Turkey about me again. I need to stay outside [of Turkey]. I want to go back, but it’s not easy now.


How do you deal with this? How do you deal with this high political and judicial pressure around your work?

It’s not an easy question for me because it’s my lifestyle I chose it. I could have chosen other ways but I don’t have any other option now. I don’t know, it’s difficult but it’s life.

ECPMF JiR – Cihan Yücel

Would you say that it is activist work for you ?

Probably, yes. Another problem for me is the concept of what I am doing, because I do it in a very free way, without any background in journalism, or any networks. I did it my way, asking myself what is good and what can I do better. Then people labelled me in different ways. The most common one, I think, is investigative journalism, but also citizen journalism. I say social media journalism.


What motivates you? Why against such high pressure and such threats do you continue your work? 

It’s about the country. I love my country, I want better things for the future of it. Since my childhood, we have had the same problems; corruption, for example. I want to struggle with it, if I can do something to change it. Journalism is not easy, especially if you are in Turkey, so I want to support my colleagues, the journalists, the area, and the people with my reports.


Talking of support, do the Turkish population and your followers support this investigative content? How do they feel about your work?

I usually get positive reactions from followers. When I was in Turkey, it was more like activism, I was always in demonstrations. During the Gezi Park protests in 2013, there were a million people in the city, it was like an uprising and I was in it. At this time it wasn’t easy to separate my journalism and my activism. Now I am outside [of Turkey], I am not in this field anymore. My journalism changed, now I have whistleblowers, for example. In the past, I just went somewhere at the right time, reporting or investigating open source on the internet. Now it has changed, they want to know my comments about political things in Turkey. It’s interesting for me, but I think I like more investigative work or to be in the field.


I read a lot about censorship in Turkey and how websites keep being shut down. How does censorship affect your work?

I think I have an advantage about that with using Twitter because Twitter’s policy about that is usually helpful not always but still, I can have an account on Twitter. They [Turkish authorities] always try to block it. Even in Germany, they started to complain about German laws but nothing happened so far, they couldn’t do it. They used to block access to all of Twitter in Turkey but I take advantage of it. If I use a website, they can easily block it in Turkey, for example. Newspapers, websites, it is the same for all of them. Censorship is a really big problem in Turkey. We started to be familiar with it; it’s like normality now for us unfortunately.


Would you say you self censor yourself sometimes because maybe you could be threatened for your writings?

Yes, probably. I don’t know if it’s a danger for other people, but usually not for me. For other people in Turkey, my sources or other people. I think sometimes, maybe? Of course, if it is just dangerous for people, I have some self-censorship, probably, but I didn’t think about it so much so far.


If it’s a danger for other people, then you self censor, but what if it’s a danger for you?

I think my style and my language can be considered as very soft. It’s important for me to be in communication with all the people, the whole country. I don’t like the polarising social categories in Turkey. We are a polarised country. Usually there is no communication between the sides, I don’t like it, it’s not helpful for the country. We need to communicate, we need to understand each other, so my style reflects that. My observation is that the people, for example, who are supporters of the government in Turkey, don’t hate me. They follow me, they take some info from me, sometimes we communicate, sometimes they support me against their party. Of course, the managers, the big bosses, they hate me and want to do bad things to me. That’s why I don’t feel the need to censor myself, because the danger for me is usually from the big mafia, the government, or the judicial system in Turkey. 


How is your relation to other journalists, other independent journalists? Do you support each other? Do you help each other with this investigative work?

Of course. In Turkey, we need it. We always need solidarity. I always felt this solidarity from my friends, from other journalists and I am trying to do the same. But again, I am not in a journalist network. There are these kinds of networks also in Turkey but I don’t have these kinds of connections just friends. 

ECPMF JiR – Cihan Yücel

Now that you are not in Turkey anymore, did this relation to journalists and to your country change in your work and your way of thinking? Did your relation to journalism, to writing to Turkish people, change in your mind and your work?

No, I think my mind and my head are still in Turkey. It’s not a good thing, it makes my life difficult here in Berlin. Physically I am here, but I am always thinking about and following my country. Psychologically, I think it’s not helpful for us. So still, in my mind, I am in Turkey.


How is it to report on topics that happened in Turkey when you’re not in Turkey?

Again, it’s a bit weird. Sometimes I don’t feel good about it, because it’s easier to report from outside. As I said, I am on social media and we always have notifications from people, their comments, and other things. If they say, “oh, okay, you are outside, you are in Germany, it’s easy for you to say that”. It’s not a good feeling when you notice that, but I have to try to continue.


People know that you didn’t leave by choice, don’t they?

I changed my decision a few times in the last few years. I thought I needed to go back. There are some risks or punishments, but I can go. So I decided to go back. A lot of people started to say, “No, you can’t, stop”. I started to think about why they told me not to go back, but it didn’t change my decision. We then checked in on the ongoing judicial investigations about me in Turkey and my lawyer said, “They will arrest you at the airport at your first step”. I couldn’t go, so I decided to wait more.


With this difficult situation, are there moments where you think that your work is worth it, and where you feel like you’ve accomplished something?

I’ve always had concerns about it, if it’s right. Why am I not in my country, why am I outside and some of my friends are still there? They chose a different way. [The authorities] tried to put me in prison for one year but I can’t be sure about it maybe they don’t actually have this intent. It wasn’t good for me psychologically to always think about if my decisions are right or not. Then I continued working thanks to ECPMF and the conditions in Leipzig. With a bit of a relaxed mind, I started to investigate again, to report there.

Now, the court trial which is happening today is about a very big journalism production which I would not be able to do in Turkey. Some other journalists had the documents but they couldn’t publish them for several reasons, so I did it. 


It wasn’t a wrong decision to leave. When I found this report, I thought I will do this because it’s not just for journalism, but also for a country.


What do you think people outside of Turkey can do to support the work of independent journalists?

I think I need to answer with my experiences about this. I started to be known as a journalist in Turkey. For the first few years, I didn’t accept it. I thought I’m not a journalist. But again, in Leipzig, I decided I can accept it. Then there is an economic problem, it’s not my main source of income. I want to do it, but not in a company or with a boss. I started a Patreon donation account on Twitter and surprisingly, it was very helpful for me. People from Turkey donated regularly saying “continue what you do, we will support you”. For freelancers or for independent journalists, this is maybe the number one solution. It can be these kinds of donation systems or scholarship programmes. They are helpful and we always need solidarity between journalists in Turkey and outside. For example, again, I am here with the support of RSF and ECPMF.  When I was in Turkey, I didn’t know about them, about this kind of organisation. My journalist friends told me about this organisation and they contacted them to explain my situation. Then I realised that it is a great idea. If someone in the world, a journalist, due to his journalism faces some risks or problems, these journalists organisations can fund them and help them – they support solidarity. I saw it with ECPMF and RSF, it’s very helpful. It’s a great idea and the application of it here is almost perfect, I think. I respect it.

Interview conducted by Bérénice Jolly, Communications Intern at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF). Lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

Read more about our Journalists-in-Residence programme here and about our work to support journalists in exile here.

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