December 19, 2014

Reactions grow against gov’t-led crackdown on media

Reactions to the government-supported crackdown on free media through detentions and arrests, which aims to silence and intimidate certain media outlets, especially Zaman and STV groups, for reporting on the corruption allegations against the ruling party, continue to grow.

In a police operation against targeted media outlets and certain members of the police department on Sunday, 31 media and police figures, including Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and Samanyolu Media Group Head Hidayet Karaca, were detained. Dumanlı was released for lack of evidence, while the decision on whether to arrest Karaca will be decided on Friday. Both eminent journalists are being accused of being members of a terrorist group. Tufan Ergüder, the former head of the İstanbul Police Department's Anti-terror Branch and the former head of the Hakkari Police Department, was also among those who were arrested.

İzzettin Doğan, chairman of the Cem Foundation, said the recent pressure on the media has proved that neither people's lives nor their property are guaranteed.

"In today's Turkey, it is not the judiciary which has the last word over disputes but rather its politicians -- whether the president or not. However, the state is defined as a structure administered according to rules but not the rules designed by politicians in line with their wishes or the ruling party's ambitions. We now see that many laws are enacted based on the political interests of those in power. This proclivity creates a substantial distrust between the state and its citizens. So “reasonable doubt” [replacing “strong doubt,” which was based on concrete evidence] turned into a threat against journalists. This regulation has deprived journalists from doing their job freely," Doğan noted.

Dec. 14 operations reflection of despotic regime practices

Making remarks regarding the Dec. 14 operation against specific media figures and the decision to arrest Karaca, Zaman daily Assistant Editor-in-Chief Mehmet Kamış described it as an abuse of rights, adding: "This conclusion is a result of pressure being put on the judges and prosecutors by politicians. Even this cannot be called unlawful, but purely an instance of despotism. It is a clear abuse of human rights. The release of Mr. Ekrem fails to cover up this farce and the violation of the law. There is an editor-in-chief who was kept in custody for six days on the basis of falsified accusations, as there is no offense, no reason for detention nor any evidence concerning any crime.

The president of the Press Council, Pınar Türenç, announced that the council is worried about press freedoms due to the recent detentions and raids. Speaking at an event held in İzmir province on Friday, Türenç stressed that all press associations should show solidarity with each other in order to resist all efforts to crackdown on the freedom of the press.

Turkish Bar Association (TBB) President Metin Feyzioğlu also underlined that they are against any kind of assault on the media and said: "Our stance against such a crackdown is quite clear. As an organization, we stand against any move that will restrict freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Our attitude was the same in the past and will be the same in the future."

Highlighting that government-led cruelty and oppression, as well as violations of the principle of having a fair trial, did not begin with Sunday's operations, Feyzioğlu went on to say: "Trying to create the perception that the Sunday crackdown was the beginning of pressure on the media is obviously disrespectful to those who faced cruelty from the state in the past. It is time to open a clean page in terms of basic freedoms. There is no need to repeat history's mistakes."

Metin Günday, a professor of administrative law at Atılım University, criticized the questions asked by the prosecutor who is overseeing the investigation into Dumanlı and Karaca, saying that asking questions like, "Why did you report those events?", which is a part of the scope of journalism, means questioning journalism itself.

"In my opinion, none of the potential responses that will be given to these questions constitutes a crime. This is something like someone asking me why I defend a client. Also, Dumanlı was asked whether he listened to the speeches of [Islamic scholar] Fethullah Gülen. Is not the website in which his speeches are shared open to the public? So anyone who listens to them should be considered a criminal?" Günay further questioned.

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