December 24, 2014

Davutoğlu twists facts on media crackdown, reveals gov’t had prior knowledge

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu continued to twist facts regarding an unprecedented crackdown on the independent and critical media in Turkey, claiming that no journalists were detained in their homes and admitting the government prepped for public relations damage control in advance of the raids.

In fact, not only were journalists detained by the police in the early hours of Dec. 14, but so were a producer, a director, a scriptwriter, an assistant scriptwriter and several former police chiefs. Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the country's best-selling national daily Zaman, was detained on live TV when the police came to his office to serve the detention warrant.

“This incident [crackdown on the media] has been spoken of as a media raid. No one has been taken from their house in the early morning [hours]; they were invited to testify,” Davutoğlu told accompanying reporters aboard a government plane en route to an official visit to Macedonia this week.

“They didn't behave like normal citizens, and instead of going to court to testify, they went to the newspaper and deceived the public by saying that they were resisting. What are they resisting for? They testified and were released pending trial. What would happen if they had gone to court in advance instead of making such a show?” he said.

Davutoğlu's account of the crackdown on the media does not accurately reflect the way events unfolded on that Sunday when police raided the homes and offices of media professionals early in the morning, taking 27 people into custody for questioning by a prosecutor.

Among the detained were Naci Çelik Berksoy, director of a TV show “Tek Türkiye” (One Turkey), and the show's scriptwriters -- Ali Kara, Radiye Ebru Şenvardar and Elif Yılmaz. “Tek Türkiye” was a popular series that was aired between 2009 and 2011 on Samanyolu TV.

Makbule Çam Elmadağ, assistant scriptwriter of the same TV show, was also detained in Van and questioned by the police. Elmadağ has an 18-month-old baby, yet she was still taken into police custody. Ahmed Şahin, a 79-year-old columnist at the Zaman daily, was also detained in the operation.

The detention warrant signed by the judge listed Dumanlı's office address in İstanbul, which is the Zaman headquarters. Dumanlı responded to allegations of staging a show on Friday upon his release pending trial saying that he waited for the police to serve a detention warrant at his office because the address written on the detention warrant clearly listed his office address and he waited there for the police to serve the papers.

Davutoğlu also falsely claimed that journalists resisted when being detained, when in fact none of them resisted, including Dumanlı, who was detained by police on live TV. "The free press cannot be silenced," a crowd composed of his newspaper's staff and readers chanted at the Zaman offices as a team of police officers from the counterterrorism department of the İstanbul police detained Dumanlı. However, none of those present interfered in the police's work. Dumanlı said the protesters reacted in a peaceful and democratic way by simply chanting pro-freedom slogans and that the police officials faced no physical resistance.

The police originally had to leave after their first visit to the newspaper when Dumanlı's lawyers challenged the detention paperwork and said it was not in order. They had to return later in the day after completing the proper paperwork to detain Zaman's editor-in-chief.

Police went to the home of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group general manager, Hidayet Karaca, who was waiting for the police to show up in his office. When notified by his lawyer who was with his wife at his home that police had come and wanted to serve a detention warrant, Karaca drove to the police station himself to respond to the charges.

The prime minister did not mention the fact that both Dumanlı and Karaca went to the chief prosecutor's office in İstanbul two days before their detention to check the accuracy of rumors on social media that they were to be detained. Dumanlı's lawyer, Gazi Tanır, said on the matter: “As you know, we went to the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office on Friday in order to learn whether any investigation is being carried out against Dumanlı and others. The chief prosecutor [Hadi Salihoğlu] told us there was no investigation linked to them. However, one day after this assurance, an investigation into Dumanlı was launched and a warrant was even issued for his detention.

Why was EU statement issued on Sunday?

From remarks made to reporters on Tuesday, Prime Minister Davutoğlu also seemed to have been dismayed by the fact that the European Union and the US issued a critical statement on the detention of the journalists on Sunday.

“Some circles are pressing the button [to begin an operation against Turkey]. When I was the foreign minister, I would think at least 50 times before calling a colleague on a Sunday, even if the case was urgent. And if the colleague is Jewish, I never called on Saturday. But about an operation that took place on a Sunday, without having any idea about its background, a statement was issued from the EU even though it is difficult to make such a decision, as such statements require a collective decision. But [we observed] a mobilization [against Turkey], just like the pressing of a button,” he said.

On the very day the prominent journalists were detained, which was a Sunday, the EU expressed its concern, saying it will continue to follow developments related to the operation through its local delegation.

“We are very concerned about reports reaching us from Turkey about detained journalists and media representatives. Our delegation on the ground is working hard to give us a full picture,” European Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said.

European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz described the raid on the Zaman daily as “troubling” and underlined that media freedom is one of the key values necessary for full membership of the EU, which Turkey has been struggling to be a part of for decades. EP Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri, who recently paid a visit to Turkey in order to make her progress report, also expressed astonishment over the detentions targeting leading media outlets in the country, saying the operation was an “attack on press freedom.”

The US State Department was also critical of the detentions, calling on the Turkish authorities to protect media freedom.

In another statement indicating that the detention of the journalists was a politically motivated step to crack down on media that is independent and critical of the government, Davutoğlu inadvertently told reporters on Tuesday that the government anticipated international criticism and condemnation and had prepared to contain the damage from the fallout that would come after the media crackdown.

“We have, in fact, envisaged this,” Davutoğlu admitted to reporters, in a sign that the government was already aware of the pending crackdown on the media before Dec. 14. “We had a meeting on this issue with our colleagues and we reviewed the measures to be taken in the context of public diplomacy,” he said. Davutoğlu's remarks also refute the claim that the investigation is part of legal proceedings and that the government has nothing to do with it.

“We have made the necessary assignments,” Davutoğlu also said on how the government planned to handle the criticism from Turkey's allies and partners.

Davutoğlu's comments were corroborated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who publicly questioned how the EU was able to issue a statement so quickly after the raids.

Both implied that the US and the EU have certain ties to what they call a “parallel structure,” a derogatory term used by Erdoğan to smear the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu accuse Gülen of being part of a plot to overthrow the government by orchestrating a corruption investigation that led to the resignation of four ministers. Gülen denies these charges.

Published on Today's Zaman, 24 December 2014, Wednesday