December 23, 2014

Asharq al-Awsat: Turkey’s democracy on deathbed for two years

Asharq al-Awsat, one of the most influential papers in the Arab world, has featured the Dec. 14 police operations against independent media in Turkey with the headline “Democracy in Turkey on its deathbed for two years.”

The Saudi-sponsored news outlet conducted an interview with the head of the Cihan news agency and Today's Zaman columnist Abdülhamit Bilici, in which he likened the status of Turkey's democracy to a sick person on a deathbed waiting to die.

The newspaper also touched on the recent allegations that Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen heads a terrorist organization. Asharq al-Awsat also commented that the Turkish government's request for Gülen's extradition from the US will be a “test” between Turkey and the United States.

Mentioning that the Hizmet movement, a social movement known for its cultural and educational activities, has schools affiliated with it in more than 160 countries worldwide, Bilici said: “Accusing the movement of terrorism is a very bizarre event. What link has been found between Hizmet and terrorist groups?”

The newspaper interview also commented on the increase in circulation of the Zaman daily after the Dec. 14 operation against independent media by the government whilst criticizing the government crackdown of free and independent media.

Today's Zaman columnist Bilici said in his interview the persecution against the media in Turkey isn't only against Hizmet-affiliated media but against the media as a whole. “As a result of the government's activities, democracy in Turkey has been on its deathbed for two years.”

Bilici said that Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı was detained for publishing “two columns and one news article” years ago, and that Hidayet Karaca, the head of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group (STV), was imprisoned based on evidence derived from the script of a popular TV series that aired on the channel five years ago.

Replying to a question on why the “alliance” between the Hizmet movement and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) ended, Bilici said, “For the 13 years that I have been at the Zaman daily, we've been defending democracy, we've been supporting Turkey's EU [accession] process.”

Stating that Turkey was being touted as a model for the Arab world during then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's first term but that it is now far from that point, Bilici said: “[In the past] we wrote about the successes of the government. But the government changed its path. It [the AK Party] chose a style of increasing authoritarian governance.”

Simultaneous operations were launched on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 as part of a major investigation into alleged bribery linked to public tenders and corruption. The sons of three ministers, bureaucrats and prominent businessmen, as well as one of Erdoğan's sons, were implicated in the scandals.

Erdoğan, who is now serving as president, has accused the faith-based Hizmet movement, which is inspired by the teachings of Gülen, of orchestrating a plot to try to bring down the government. Erdoğan claims that Gülen's followers within the police and judiciary were behind the graft operations.

Gülen, whose teachings have inspired millions of people around the world to forge a powerful socio-religious community active in publishing, charity and above all education, has denied all the charges.

Published on Today's Zaman, 23 December 2014, Tuesday