July 13, 2014

Some FEM branches remove signs after municipality sets 3-day deadline

Several branches of the Fem prep school and one branch of the Anafen prep school on the Anatolian side of İstanbul have removed their signboards after the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality sent a notice telling the institutions to remove their adverts within three days.

The Fem prep school's Kartal, Tuzla, Pendik, Maltepe and Kurtköy branches and Anafen's Kaynarca branch had to take their signboards down because the municipality warned that if the administrations did not remove the adverts the municipality would. They added that the removal cost, with an additional 20 percent charge, would be asked from the prep schools' administrations.

The prep schools are preparing to take legal action against the municipality.

The same notice was not sent to other prep schools in the area of the Fem prep schools or to other workplaces using signboards.

The municipality explained that its action against Fem prep schools was regarding the ban on lit signboards, although the regulation has not been practiced for years. The prep schools are paying taxes to the municipality for their use of the signboards.

The municipality enacted a regulation in 2005 which banned the use of signage on the top floor of buildings that are used as residences or workplaces. Despite this regulation, examples of such signage are common but no other lit signs appear to have been removed so far.

Fem officials said the signboard of the Kartal Anafen branch was lit but made of fabric. It was also removed by the municipality.

Other workplaces are also disturbed by the municipality's move against the Fem prep schools.

A hairdresser, Muzaffer Özalp, whose workplace is in the same location as the Fem prep school in Maltepe, said removal of signboards on top floors will lead to financial loss for workplaces.

“When we buy or rent these workplaces, we pay extra money because they look to the street. If customers do not see the signboards, they will not come here and we will have a financial loss,” he said.

The municipality did not send any notices to the Birey and Final prep schools in Maltepe whose signboards are also on the top floor. Likewise, the Fen Bilimleri and Uğur prep schools in Kartal also did not receive any notices from the municipality, Today's Zaman has learned.

The signboard removal issue began in late June when municipal police removed boards that belonged to the Fem prep school in İstanbul's Mecidiyeköy district. The removal was justified on the grounds that the school had violated the municipality's advertising regulations. However, some believe that the real reason is because the school is affiliated with a social movement Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not approve of.

The Fem prep schools are associated with 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 his government that he claims is an attempt to overthrow his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, although the prime minister has not been able to produce evidence to justify the claims.

Fem prep schools help students prepare for the national university entrance exam, while Anafen prep schools train students for centralized examinations for high schools.

In response to the outrage caused by the advert's removal, the municipality removed other signs on the same building, including one belonging to the Anafen prep school. The removal took place in the middle of the night, but 117 other signboards in Mecidiyeköy Square were left untouched.

On June 29, the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality removed adverts placed by Fatih High School from the city's billboards even though the school had paid for the space. The 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.

In a similar development earlier this month, the Bolu Municipality closed down two schools belonging to businessmen affiliated with the Hizmet movement.

The municipality hung a sign in front of the schools claiming that the buildings were not licensed and that the buildings did not follow municipality-approved plans. Bolu Mayor Alaaddin Yılmaz said his municipality had to take action against unlicensed buildings and that the closures are not linked to a government policy against Hizmet.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 13 July 2014, Sunday