December 26, 2014

Zaman Editor-in-Chief Dumanlı urges support for media freedom in letter

Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper, Turkey's most-circulated daily, has written a letter to leading politicians, businessmen and media organizations in Turkey and in the world, asking their support for the freedom of the press in Turkey which he said is “under serious threat.”

Dumanlı was recently released pending trial in a government-orchestrated police operation that was launched on Dec.14.

In his letter, which was sent to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, among others, Dumanlı wrote:"Sadly, all free media institutions and commercial companies are now in danger in Turkey. I expect support from everyone who believes in democracy and the rule of law in order to protect [the] freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”

The journalist also talked about his detention, which he said happened despite there being a lack of any tangible evidence against him beyond his journalistic activities.

“As you may have seen in the media, I was detained last week along with other journalists, screen writers and several media staff on charges of attempting to overthrow the state and forming an armed terrorist organization. After being kept in custody for 120 hours, I was released pending trial and banned from leaving the country. Footage from my defense at court which appeared in this YouTube video ( clearly proves that I was accused on the basis of one news article and two op-ed pieces. The judge presiding over the case told me 'Yes, you are being tried because of two columns and one news article.' This clearly demonstrates that it is [the] freedom of the press which has directly been targeted in my case,” Dumanlı said in his letter.

Dumanlı was detained for four days before being interrogated for seven hours at the İstanbul Police Department by a prosecutor. He was charged with "establishing and administrating an armed organization" under anti-terrorism legislation and based on two op-ed pieces and one article published in his newspaper five years ago. Dumanlı was released on Dec.19 while Samanyolu TV General Manager Hidayet Karaca, who was also taken into custody on Dec. 14, was arrested along with three police chiefs.

In the letter, Dumanlı also talked about the claims circulating social media about the government's plans for him, his paper and Samanyolu TV. He expressed concerns that just like previous claims have come true, these may come true as well.

Without mentioned him by name, the editor quoted an anonymous whistleblower who goes by the name of “Fuat Avni” on Twitter. Almost all of Avni's previous claims have come true.

“The judges were instructed by the very top of the state to arrest Ekrem Dumanlı based on unfounded letters by unknown sources. Following the arrest, the state will take over the Zaman and STV [Samanyolu] media groups or appoint a trustee administrator to these two media institutions. As a result of this devious strategy, the government will take control of another independent media group,” he said, calling the claims “terrible.”

A prosecutor has already appealed the court's decision to release Dumanlı.

The editor-in-chief said the “creeping claims [of Avni's] demonstrate the extent of lawlessness in Turkey” and how political authorities can “persecute independent media groups and companies in such ways whenever they so wish.” He added that anybody who believes in democracy, freedoms and universal law should raise their voices for press freedom in Turkey.

Erdoğan signals detention of more journalists

Speaking at the Great Turkey Symposium on Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan commented on the Dec. 14 detention of journalists, including Dumanlı and Karaca, saying, "They were detained for supporting an illegal organization."

Signaling the detention of more journalists in the upcoming days, Erdoğan said: “Maybe some others [journalists] will be detained in addition to them [Dumanlı and Karaca]. It is possible. I am asking you intellectuals, don't journalists commit crimes? If they do, they should pay the price for it. Journalists don't only hold pens, they might as well be holding guns."

Many prominent figures from the fields of journalism and politics have continued to raise their voices against the Dec. 14 government crackdown on the media and possible plans to arrest Dumanlı.

Media Ethics Council (MEK) President Halit Esendir in a written statement on Friday said he hopes claims about arresting Dumanlı will not come true. “Every attempt aimed to silence the media will damage our country's international image,” he warned.

Algan Hacaloğlu, a former minister responsible for human rights who is currently a deputy with the Republican People's Party (CHP), said efforts aiming to restrict the freedom of expression are unacceptable in a democracy. He condemned the government for its media crackdown and said democracy has been seriously wounded in Turkey due to government practices.

Writer and TV programmer Tayfun Talipoğlu pointed to the terrorism charges directed at Karaca and Dumanlı, saying that their trial over these charges would be as ridiculous as his trial over involvement in religious fundamentalism.

Writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol said those detained in the Dec.14 operation should be tried without imprisonment, adding that he hopes Dumanlı will not be arrested again.

Journalist Orhan Kemal Cengiz said the arrest of Karaca, who surrendered to the police himself, is an arbitrary action. He also noted that the possible arrest of Dumanlı, without any concrete evidence, will prove that there is strong government pressure being placed on judges.

CHP deputy chairman Bülent Tezcan said it is very obvious that Dumanlı and Karaca are being prosecuted for their journalistic activities. He said the Dec.14 operation was a government attempt to silence critical media outlets.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 December 2014, Friday