The detention of journalists who are critical of the government and had covered the Dec. 17 and 25 graft operations, which implicated several ministers and pro-government businessman, is a “revenge operation,” main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Konya deputy Atilla Kart has said.
“The media outlets which ran stories about the Dec. 17 and 25 investigations have become the target [of the government] today. These detentions also aim to incite fear in other journalists so that they will refrain from writing anything critical about the government,” Kart told Today's Zaman.
Since the Dec. 17 and 25 scandals went public, thousands of jurists and members of the police force have been reassigned, while the judiciary and several other key state bodies were restructured in line with the government's wishes.
Kart said the violation of the Constitution in Turkey reached its peak on Aug. 15, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began to act like the head of the government even though this power is granted to the prime minister.
“Erdoğan's presidency is similar to Hitler's term in Nazi Germany. This is Nazism. … The ‘shadow cabinet' formed by Erdoğan last week can be interpreted in this respect,” Kart said.
Professor Koray Çalışkan from Boğaziçi University told Today's Zaman the operation was conducted against the press with the aim of bringing it under full control.
“This is silencing the independent press and seeking revenge for the Dec. 17 and 25 operations,” Çalışkan said.
Mahmut Akpınar, an academic from Turgut Özal University, said the arbitrary detentions are reminiscent of the practices of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which was in power in the last decades of the Ottoman Empire.
“We are once again living in the 1910s of the Ottoman Empire. Journalists were murdered on the streets in those times. This operation [against the Zaman daily] is unprecedented in the history of the Turkish Republic. This operation is not being conducted against a group in Turkey but against democracy,” Akpınar said.
İsmail Ertuğ, a deputy of Turkish origin in the European Parliament (EP), said this operation cannot be explained to the EU. The EU will react strongly to this operation, he added.
“We currently rank 130th in the world in terms of press freedom. We will see how this operation impacts our standing,” Ertuğ said.
Ahmet Hakan Coşkun, a columnist in the Hurriyet daily, said the journalists were detained even though there was no evidence on the culpability of the individuals.
Coşkun said the operation conducted against Zaman might well be the beginning of a new era for press freedom in Turkey. There is a large probability that other media outlets which have voiced criticism of the government are now under the threat of a government crackdown, he noted.
The editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, Ekrem Dumanlı, and the chairman of the Samanyolu TV group, Hidayet Karaca were detained early on Sunday along with more than 20 people in a nationwide operation. A list of suspects to be detained, released by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, shows 32 people were to be detained.
The police operation targeted journalists, TV scriptwriters and former police officers.
"The free press cannot be silenced," a crowd chanted at the offices of Zaman as a team of police officers from the counterterrorism department of the İstanbul police detained Dumanlı.
Karaca was detained after he went to the police to turn himself in.
"This is a shameful sight for Turkey," Karaca told reporters before his detention. "Sadly in 21st century Turkey this is the treatment they dish out to a media group with dozens of television and radio stations, Internet media and magazines."
The suspects are accused of forming, leading or being a member of an armed terrorist organization, forgery and slander, according to a statement released by the prosecutor's office.
The detentions came days after a government-sponsored bill that made it possible to arrest suspects based on "reasonable doubt" was signed into law.
Five police officials who are thought to be part of the "gang" are currently behind bars from a separate investigation. They will be brought to a courthouse for an interrogation.
Published on Sunday's Zaman, 14 December 2014, Sunday