December 16, 2014

Turkish media under interrogation, freedom of press threatened

Turkish media has been facing an unprecedented crackdown as the executives of Turkey's two leading media outlets have been, since Sunday, in custody and are being questioned as part of a government-orchestrated police operation that has dealt a heavy blow to freedom of the press.

Out of the 27 people who were taken into custody as part of the operation, which is aimed at diverting public attention from widespread allegations of corruption in the government, three people were released late on Sunday, while two others were released early on Monday.

Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of Turkey's highest-selling daily, Zaman, and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca are still in custody at the İstanbul Police Department.

The lawyers for Dumanlı, Gazi Tanır and Hasan Günaydın, told reporters, after visiting Dumanlı early on Monday, that the accusations were baseless and that the whole thing is an attempt to alter public perception
“Or rather, there is no [genuine] accusation,” Tanır told reporters who were gathered in front of the İstanbul Police Department.

Tanır, who said they would be making a more elaborate statement after Dumanlı gives his statement to the police, said, “You will see then that this whole thing is for perception.”

An arrest warrant was issued by the İstanbul Prosecutor's Office for a total of 31 people -- mostly high ranking media personnel, directors and producers of popular television serials and police officers -- on charges of terrorism and fraud.

This operation started shortly after Parliament passed a law that enabled prosecutors to detain people based on “reasonable suspicion.” The law was approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday.

People staged protests against the operation, which targets freedom of the media, in front of court houses in various cities across Turkey, including İzmir and Adana.

In İstanbul, hundreds of protesters who held the Zaman daily in their hands gathered in front of the İstanbul Police Department in Fatih district. They chanted slogans such as “Free media cannot be silenced,” “The brave are here. Where are the thieves?” The word thieves refers to two corruption investigations that went public in December of last year following which four Cabinet ministers left their posts. In an attempt to cover the corruption, the government removed, shortly after the investigations were made public, all the prosecutors and high-level police officers in charge of the investigations.

Because the court issued a confidentiality order regarding yesterday's investigation, neither the lawyers nor the suspects are allowed to see the content of the investigation file. Günaydın noted that before every police operation against dissidents amendments in laws were made and that Dumanlı's detention was based upon Friday's amendments.

He said: “With these amendments, they try to establish the infrastructure, then comes the the [police] operation. This particular case is a typical example of that.
Günaydın said, as lawyers they have not been able to obtain information about the content of the file, adding it was not possible for Dumanlı, as editor-in-chief of the daily to be accused based on a column or a report published in the daily of attempting to destroy democratic political order.

The detention period for Dumanlı and Karaca has been extended for one more day, which is not customary, lawyers of Karaca, Fikret Duran and Doğan Akkurt, said at a press conference in front of the İstanbul Police Department on Monday.

Lawyers hope that Dumanlı would appear before the court on Tuesday.

The lawyers maintained that the statements the suspects would give under custody would not count for much, as it was President Erdoğan and the government are behind the operation and they have already decided who should be kept in custody. “Those who decided that this operation would be conducted, those who talk [against the Hizmet] in rallies [around the country] had already decided who would get arrested,” Duran said.

During a meeting on Monday, Erdoğan once again targeted the Hizmet movement, inspired by Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar, by implicitly referring to the Hizmet saying, “They [the Hizmet] are paying, and will pay the price.”

Last week, Erdoğan targeted the Hizmet movement, saying they [the government] have “entered the lair” of those who, he claimed, had plotted to oust the government, in an obvious reference to the Hizmet movement.

Both the Zaman daily and the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group are affiliated with the Hizmet movement.

Among the detained, Naci Çelik Berksoy, director of a television serial called “Tek Türkiye” (Undivided Turkey), and script writers of the serial -- Radiye Ebru Şenvardar and Elif Yılmaz -- were released late on Sunday night.

Makbule Çam Elamdağ, assistant script writer of the same popular television serial, was released after being questioned at the Van Police Department without being referred to the İstanbul Police Department. Elamdağ has a baby who is 1.5 years old. Ahmed Şahin, a columnist in the Zaman daily, was also released early on Monday after giving his statement without even being referred to the court. Ali Kara, scriptwriter of the television serial, was also released later the same day.

“Tek Türkiye” was a popular television serial final episode, the final episode of which was broadcast on Samanyolu television in 2009.

Lawyer Duran maintained that Karaca was exposed to “persecution” in custody, as he was detained with no tangible evidence against him. “In this sense, my client was exposed to psychological persecution, although he is physically well,” he said at the press meeting early in the day.

Since two major corruption investigations were launched in December of last year, which implicated government ministers and Erdoğan's inner circle, Erdoğan has declared a “war” against the Hizmet movement, accusing it of being behind the corruption investigations.

Hadi Salihoğlu, the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor, said in a statement on Sunday that the suspects were detained on charges of establishing, heading or being a member of a terrorist organization. Fraud and slander are also what some of the suspects are accused of, the statement said.

Duran also said he has the impression that the police is not trying, in any way, to speed up the process so that suspects could be released or referred to the court as soon as possible.

Noting that only three of the suspects had been questioned by early Monday, he said: “Judging from the speed [of the process], we see that the aim is not to speed up [the process.]”

Opposition parties have condemned Sunday's police operation against the media, saying it is a coup against the freedom of the media and the rule of law.

Published on Today's Zaman, 15 December 2014, Monday