December 18, 2014

Detained Zaman editor-in-chief denies charges against him in testimony

Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, who was detained on Dec. 14 as part of a government-backed police operation against high-level media members, directors and producers of a popular television serial and police officers, has denied all charges against him during his testimony to prosecutors, saying that he has never been involved in any kind of criminal activity and that he is not a member of an illegal organization.

Dumanlı and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca were among dozens of people detained on Dec. 14 as part of the operation. Twelve of the detainees have been released after being interrogated by police, while 16 -- including Dumanlı and Karaca -- were referred to the İstanbul Courthouse early on Thursday. According to media reports, five police officers who were detained were subsequently released by the court on Thursday.

According to media reports, the journalists -- along with the other detainees who were referred to the court -- face charges of membership of an terrorist group, depriving people of liberty by using force, making threat and slander.

Dumanlı testified to Prosecutor Fuzuli Aydoğdu at the İstanbul Police Department for seven hours before he was referred to the court on Thursday. In his testimony, Dumanlı denied allegations that he had defamed suspected members of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as Tahşiyeciler (Annotators), whose leaders' complaint was the basis of the politically orchestrated crackdown on the media. He said that he had not even heard of the name of this organization before the operation.

Dumanlı was also asked about remarks by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who criticized the Tahşiyeciler group in a speech posted on his website on April 6, 2009. Gülen had warned about Tahşiyeciler, saying that that it pretends to be a religious group.

Dumanlı said that he had already known Gülen from his speeches about religion before he later got the chance to meet him personally. Describing Gülen as one of the most well-respected religious intellectuals to emerge from Turkey, Dumanlı said that he could not remember the speech that Gülen gave about Tahşiyeciler and that he had never received an order from Gülen to write a particular news story during his time at Zaman.

Dumanlı: Gülen never interferes with Zaman's editorial policy

Dumanlı also maintained that Gülen never gives instructions to anyone at Zaman, adding that Gülen only writes a column published in the daily each Friday under the title “Kürsü.”

“Any intervention by Gülen in the editorial policies of Zaman is out of the question. The policies [of Zaman] are not shaped by his orders. Between 5,000 and 8,000 news stories arrive at the newspapers every day. These news stories are classified by each department and evaluated according to their own policies. … Each department prepares their own pages. These pages are then presented to the editor-in-chief and deputy editors of the daily. Of these news stories, the most important are taken to the front page of the paper. It would not be possible to send such a large amount of news stories to Gülen for his approval. The time period between here and US is different; it would also not be physically possible [to edit Zaman],” Dumanlı told the prosecutor.

When asked about the reports covering Gülen's remarks on Tahşiyeciler, Dumanlı said: “The reporter who wrote the article considered Gülen's remarks to be important and wanted to write about them. The article was published on the third page of the newspaper at the time. If I had found the report so significant, I -- as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper -- would have put it on the front page of the newspaper.”

Dumanlı was also asked why “Tahşiye” was depicted as linked with terrorist groups in the popular TV series “Tek Türkiye” (One Turkey). In response, the Zaman editor-in-chief said that he does not watch television and that Zaman does not have any links with Samanyolu TV, which broadcasts the “Tek Türkiye” series, and that he did not want to comment further on the issue.

The director, producers and scriptwriters of the “Tek Türkiye” TV series were also among those who were detained in the Dec. 14 police operation. The TV show always started with a disclaimer that the series was not based on actual people or events, although there were many episodes that were inspired by real-life events.

Questions over dershanes

In reference to media coverage over the closure of dershanes -- private institutes that offer test prep classes -- Dumanlı said: “Fethullah Gülen did not give me any orders to publish anything about dershanes,” adding that he had not met with Gülen over the issue of dershanes at all.

In response to a question over why the Zaman daily in November and October of 2013 continually reported on the issue of the closing down of dershanes, Dumanlı said he had worked at dershanes for few years and taught Turkish and literature courses, adding: “I believe students can enter universities by attending dershanes and I also believe dershanes fill a gap in the national education. That is why we sincerely covered the issue at the newspaper. I also told the prime minister at the time and the education minister face-to-face. I did not receive any orders from anyone to cover the issue.”

Dumanlı was also asked about Zaman's media coverage on the successive government-backed operations targeting the police force since July and if he knows former İstanbul Police Department Anti-terrorism Unit Chief Ömer Köse, former İstanbul Counterterrorism Unit Chief Yurt Atayün and the others who were detained as part of these operations. In response to the prosecutor, Dumanlı said he does not know these people personally, adding that the Zaman daily extensively covered these operations because it found them newsworthy.

Dumanlı: I did not commit a crime

During his testimony, Dumanlı rejected claims that he had “caused an investigation to be launched against the Tahşiyeciler group by creating a perception in the public [via Zaman's publications],” emphasizing that he does not have any form of links to the issue at all.

When asked if he had anything else to add to his testimony, Dumanlı said he was wondering what charges would be directed at him before the testimony, adding: “However, I have arrived at the conclusion that I should not have been detained after I heard the questions directed to me and saw the documents that were shown. This is a very saddening incident in terms of my country. I have been a journalist for 20 years. I am a person who conducts his life in front of the public. I find it very upsetting that such a commotion was caused just based on two columns and one report. I did not commit a crime. I am not a part of any illegal organization.”

The prosecutor in charge of the Dec. 14 operation claimed that journalists, through print coverage and broadcast media about the police raids conducted on the Tahşiyeciler group in 2010, had defamed the suspects, including the leader of Tahşiyeciler, Mehmet Doğan, who had openly called for an armed struggle to take over the government in Turkey.

In a rather bizarre and twisted story, raids in 2010 that revealed a huge cache of weapons including bombs and guns in a safe house used by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Tahşiyeciler group were covered by many media outlets in Turkey, including CNN Türk, Habertürk, Hürriyet, Radikal and even pro-government dailies Sabah and Star at the time. Government officials took credit for the raids, saying a threat from an important sleeper cell of al-Qaeda had been neutralized.

Now, however, as though the armed Tahşiyeciler group has been absolved of all charges, the investigation has been turned against journalists, with the prosecutor accusing two media outlets, the Zaman daily and the Samanyolu TV channel, of discrediting and defaming the al-Qaeda suspects. It is not just the prosecutor of the case; President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also publicly defended the al-Qaeda group leader, claiming that Doğan had been victimized.

Published on Today's Zaman, 18 December 2014, Thursday