December 18, 2014

Set journalists free now!

Prosecutors claim Zaman and Samanyolu journalists contributed to an alleged legal plot against a group with suspected ties to al-Qaeda through their intellectual work. They are accused of receiving orders from prominent Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen to carry out the job, with Mr. Gülen's sympathizers in the police then supposedly following through with it. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held Mr. Gülen and his admirers in the bureaucracy responsible for last year's corruption scandal, describing it as a coup against him. The president declared the group an enemy of the state and publicly said the Turkish government will pursue a “witch hunt” against it.

For several days now Turkey has been busy with the crackdown on the free media of Dec. 14. The acts of oppression and intimidation that have been taking place in front of the eyes of the world qualify to be recorded in the history of lawlessness. Two prominent names in our country, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper, Mr. Ekrem Dumanlı, and the chairman of the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group, Mr. Hidayet Karaca, are being held behind bars only and simply because of their journalistic activities. And they are shockingly accused of forming and leading an armed terrorist organization.

What lies at the core of the Dec. 14 crackdown on the media is an investigation and the subsequent judicial proceedings into a group called “Tahşiyeciler” -- a group alleged five years ago to have links to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Ekrem Dumanlı has been taken in because he allowed the publication of a news story and two opinion pieces about a speech given by widely known Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen in 2009.

However, the same speech was reported on by the Vatan newspaper as well, and the police operation against “Tahşiyeciler” was all over news print and the audio-visual mainstream media. Fethullah Gülen is a philosopher whose ideas are followed and stir curiosity not only in Turkey but also around the world. What is more natural than having news and opinion pieces about his remarks, considering the fact that he authored nearly than 70 books?

Moreover, the very writers who wrote those two opinion pieces in the Zaman daily, Hüseyin Gülerce and Ahmet Şahin, were interrogated as part of the Dec. 14 crackdown on the media and later let go.

Hidayet Karaca, likewise, has been deprived of his freedom merely because of the dialogue in a particular episode of a completely fictional TV soap opera. It is clear that this act, which would criminalize all TV production, complies with neither reason, nor the conscience nor the law.

At the core of the questions asked to Ekrem Dumanlı and Hidayet Karaca is nothing more than the content of the aforementioned news, opinion pieces and the TV series. The answer to those ridiculous questions is clear and simple: All Ekrem Dumanlı and Hidayet Karaca have done should be considered within freedom of the press and expression -- both of which are supposed to be under constitutional guarantees.

And about the investigation and judicial proceedings against the allegedly al-Qaeda-linked Tahşiyeciler group: If a crime was committed, why are then-Police Chief Oğuz Kaan Köksal and then-İstanbul Governor Muammer Güler not the prime suspects of today’s operation? Has this been avoided because both of these individuals later became deputies from the ranks of the ruling AKP? Without these questions answered, one cannot speak of the law, justice and an intention to reveal the truth behind what happened on Dec. 14 and thereafter.

The Zaman newspaper condemns this oppression of Mr. Dumanlı and Mr. Karaca in the strongest terms and calls for their immediate release in the name of justice, rights and freedoms.

Published on Today's Zaman, 18 December 2014, Thursday