July 1, 2014

İstanbul Municipality continues signboard discrimination

The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality, which recently removed the signboards of a building that is home to the officers of the FEM and Anafen prep schools, which are affiliated with a faith-based movement Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not fond of, has not removed any other buildings' signboards in the same area, manifesting its continued discrimination against opposition.

Last week, municipal security forces removed signboards that belong to the Fem prep school, which help students prepare for Turkey's national university entrance exam, in İstanbul's Mecidiyeköy district on the grounds that the school had violated the municipality's advertising regulations. However, many believe the real reason is because the prep school is affiliated with a social movement Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not approve of.

The Fem prep schools are close to the faith-based Hizmet movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Erdoğan has accused the Hizmet movement of being behind a massive corruption investigation into the government that he claims is a coup attempt intended to overthrow his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, although the prime minister has not been able to produce any evidence to justify his claims.

In response to outrage caused by the signboard removal, the municipality removed other signs on the same building, which is also home to the Anafen prep school. The signboard removal took place in the middle of the night, but 117 other signboards in the Mecideyköy Square were left untouched.

On June 29, the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality removed ads placed by Fatih College high school from the city's billboards, although the school had paid for the advertising space. The İstanbul Municipality move comes shortly after Prime Minister Erdoğan asked his AK Party mayors to restrict businesses or educational facilities thought to be affiliated with the Hizmet movement.

Mayor Kadir Topbaş has denied the signboard removal was purposeful, but Fem, which has since legally challenged the removal, has documented that it owes no outstanding taxes on the signs, which were placed with official approval from the municipality.

The AK Party government has grown increasingly authoritarian, with Prime Minister Erdoğan accusing all of his government's opponents of attempting to overthrow him. Erdoğan has made clear that he will not tolerate dissent, saying everybody has to choose a side, or “risk elimination.” The government has been criticized for forgiving taxes owed by government-controlled media, but clamping down on publications that publish different opinions.

Published on Today's Zaman, 30 June 2014, Monday

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