Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı and STV network executive Hidayet Karaca have been referred to a court for arrest while their lawyers are being kept in the dark, a development observers have characterized as a "judicial scandal."
Following a lengthy interrogation, both journalists, whose four-day detention is already a punishment by itself, were taken to Çağlayan Courthouse in İstanbul. Both journalists were taken for health screening and their lawyers stated the journalists were referred to the court likely for an arrest by an interrogating prosecutor.
According to media reports, the journalists along with the other detainees who were referred to the court face charges of being a member of an armed terrorist group, depriving people of liberty by using force, threat and tricks and slander.
The government-orchestrated police operation against high-level media members, directors and producers of a popular television serial and police officers has been sharply criticized as a badly fictionalized film scenario by a defending lawyer, as the two top executives of leading media outlets have been under custody since Sunday.
Karaca refuses to give defense to court because judge is not impartial
Samanyolu TV network executive Karaca refused to give his defense to a criminal court of peace in İstanbul, saying the judge is not impartial. Karaca also said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ keep commenting on the investigation file on the Dec. 14 operation even though the investigation is confidential. He said this shows that the judge is not impartial at all.
5 police officers released by court
Twelve of the 30 people detained as part of the operation have been released after being interrogated by the police, while 16 -- including Dumanlı and Karaca -- were referred to a court at the Çağlayan Courthouse in İstanbul early on Thursday. According to media reports, five police officers, who had been detained in Dec. 14 operation, were released by the court on Thursday.
Right violations during police interrogations
“The scenario, the scriptwriter and the producer [of the film] are bad. Those who shoot this film would go bust,” Fikri Duran, the lawyer of Karaca, the detained Samanyolu Broadcasting Group general manager, told reporters on Wednesday.
Noting that the detention period was illegitimately extended for his client, Duran told reporters in front of the İstanbul Police Department where the suspects are being held and interrogated: “My client is tired and has been without sleep. He has been made to wait [to be questioned] for four days.” Duran also said his client was accused based on an audio clip that has been tampered with.
Police also began to question Dumanlı as well as Karaca on Wednesday, the last day that they could be legally detained. Both journalists were questioned for at least seven hours. After leaving the police department, Dumanlı vowed not to bow to "Yazids," a reference to a despotic ruler in eighth century whose name has been used to describe repressive leaders. Dumanlı also chanted that "there is no way back from democracy," as he was escorted away from the police department.
The law has been violated in various ways during the detention period of the suspects, who were not allowed to know, due to a confidentiality order on the investigation, what they were accused of until they were questioned.
Media members were taken into custody without solid evidence against them but based on two columns and a report that appeared in the Zaman daily.
Hasan Yılmaz, one of the prosecutors in charge of the operation, is said to have interrogated the suspects at the İstanbul Police Department rather than at the prosecutor's office.
Dumanlı and Karaca were not reportedly asked any questions during their first three days of custody, which indicates that the detainment is used as a sort of punishment.
Only a single prosecutor questioned some of the suspects during the first three days of the operation, but on Wednesday, three prosecutors including Yılmaz reportedly took part in the questioning of Zaman daily's Dumanlı.
Lawyer not allowed to take dailies to detained client
People gathered in front of the İstanbul Police Department in support of those held in custody. Board members of the Antalya Bar Associations were also in front of the police department on Wednesday. Not allowing the suspects to know what they are being accused of before being questioned is a violation of their rights, a member of the Antalya Bar Association told Samanyolu television channel on Wednesday.
Karaca's lawyer, Duran, also said the police did not allow him to take some dailies to his client on Wednesday. The lawyer, who underlined that this was against the law, said he was told it was the prosecutor who imposed the ban.
“We observe that behavior of police officers towards us is getting tougher with each passing day,” he said, protesting that even Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of a terrorist organization, lives in better conditions.
People who peacefully protested the detention of media members in front of the police department in İstanbul's Fatih district held banners that read “Free media cannot be silenced,” “It is not possible to make [people] forget [Dec.] 17-25.” Dec. 17-25 is a reference to major graft probes that were launched in December of last year.
Tufan Ergüder and Mutlu Ekizoğlu, former heads of the Anti-terrorism Unit of the İstanbul Police Department and of the Department of Organized Crime, respectively, are also among the 18 suspects who were still under custody on Wednesday.
According to the government-orchestrated investigation, the case is built on charges of defaming a deadly al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as Tahşiyeciler (Annotators).
The prosecutor in charge of the operation claimed that the journalists, through print coverage and broadcast media about the police raids conducted on this group in 2010, had defamed the suspects, including the leader of Tahşiyeciler, Mehmet Doğan. The suspects have been accused of attempting to seize the stat. Charges of terrorism and fraud are also part of the investigation.
The government-backed operation against the media has been blasted by opposition parties and media organizations for undermining freedom of the press.
The government has also been criticized for the timing of the operation, as it came right before the anniversary of two major graft probes that were made public on Dec. 17 and 25 of last year. The government aims to divert the public's attention away from allegations of corruption, opposition parties said.
Fuat Avni claims Dumanlı, Karaca to be arrested
A government whistleblower who writes on Twitter under the pseudonym Fuat Avni maintained on Wednesday that Dumanlı, Karaca, Ekizoğlu and Ergüder would be arrested.
It is on purpose that they are being questioned on Wednesday, the anniversary of the first corruption probe, Avni wrote.
Avni, who claims to be in the inner circle of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and whose previous prophecies turned out to be true, maintained that it was Erdoğan, whom Avni nicknamed “the tyrant,” who demanded that the four suspects be arrested on the anniversary of the first corruption probe.
Orhan Kapıcı, the İstanbul deputy chief prosecutor who is in charge of the ongoing probe, was told to arrest the four suspects for plotting to defame the al-Qaeda-affiliated group.
The operation against the media has also been described by opposition parties as an “operation of revenge” by the government.
Following the corruption probes of last December, which revealed that Erdoğan and some of his family members may well also be implicated in corruption, four Cabinet ministers left their posts. The Zaman daily and the Samanyolu Media Group are among the rare media outlets in Turkey which published allegations of corruption in the government following the probes.
Published on Today's Zaman, 17 December 2014, Wednesday