December 19, 2014

Head of TV channel arrested over script of soap opera that aired 5 years ago

An İstanbul criminal court of peace established by the government following two major graft probes that went public in December 2013 ruled for the arrest of Hidayet Karaca, Samanyolu Broadcasting Group (STV) general manager, based on evidence that came from a soap opera script.

Hidayet Karaca

The general manager of STV was arrested on Friday on suspicion of heading a terrorist group based on a TV series that was broadcast years ago on the television channel. Three former police officers who had been detained were also arrested. Karaca reportedly described the court's verdict as “imaginary,” a reference to how unsubstantiated he feels the verdict is.

Karaca was detained on Sunday along with Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and a number of other journalists, scriptwriters, producers and police officers on Sunday. The operation has largely been viewed as a politically motivated crackdown on media critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The detention of the STV head was facilitated by a new “reasonable suspicion” bill, a concept introduced into the country's legislation shortly before the police operation took place. The “reasonable suspicion” act -- recently signed into law by Erdoğan -- lowers the threshold of cause or evidence needed to justify searches and reverses a reform from February 2014 that allowed courts to grant the police the power to search people and property only when there was "strong suspicion based on concrete evidence."

Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the nation's best-selling daily, was also charged with "establishing and administrating an armed organization" under anti-terrorism law based on two op-ed pieces and one article published in his newspaper five years ago. However, Dumanlı was released from custody five days after first being detained. His release comes on the condition that he doesn't leave the country.

Officials deny Karaca water while in custody

Hidayet Karaca's lawyer, Fikret Duran, said the STV general manager was denied water during his detention. Duran posted on Twitter that police officers hadn't provided water to Karaca so that he could take his medicine.

“My client, Mr. Hidayet, asked to have water to take his pills, but they didn't give him any. The prison is very cold and Mr. Hidayet is already sick,” he said via Twitter on Thursday. In later remarks also posted on Twitter, Duran said Karaca was given water after a deputy chief prosecutor ordered officials to give him some.

Karaca's lawyer said after the arrest verdict that they were going to appeal to a higher court for the dismissal of the case.

Interrogation at police department instead of courthouse

This was not the first time the rights of Dumanlı and Karaca had been violated during their five-day detention and interrogation.

Although the interrogation of suspects usually takes place in a courthouse, this was not the case for Karaca and Dumanlı, who were interrogated at the İstanbul Police Department building. Although the legal period for their custody expired in the early hours of Thursday, the suspects were still in police custody and had not appeared before a court.

The testimonies of Dumanlı and Karaca were taken 80 hours after they were first taken into custody.

No one allowed in courtroom

Rights violations continued at the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan where the pair were referred for arrest. The journalists' lawyers could not contact their clients, and their clients' whereabouts were kept from them. They were not told whether or not Dumanlı or Karaca had arrived at the courthouse.

In his remarks after the ruling was announced, Karaca said: “We believe in God; there is no room for sorrow. ... When there is an arrest based on a fictional scenario, it means that the ruling is fictional too.” He added that those who ruled for his arrest will also be put on trial one day.

Thousands show up for support

Thousands gathered outside the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan during the five-day detention to show support for the detained journalists, media personnel and police officers. While crowds celebrated the release of Dumanlı in the courtyard of the courthouse, they protested the arrest order for Karaca and the three former police chiefs.

German Gov't: ‘Correlation of verdict with freedom of speech unclear'

The German government made a statement regarding the arrest of the general manager of STV, saying, “It is unclear how the verdict will be correlated with freedom of speech and press.”

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told Today's Zaman that the approach of the German government hadn't changed, citing that compliance with democratic principles should be the main aim and that complying with these democratic principles would be in the best interests of Turkey.

EU minister: State cannot restrict freedom of press

German Minister for European Union Affairs Michael Roth said that the state has a duty to protect the press, going on to say, “The state cannot restrict the freedom of the press, it [the state] has to protect it [the press].”

“This is true inside the EU and the EU candidate country Turkey,” Roth said.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 December 2014, Friday