December 15, 2014

Zaman Editorial Board: Free media cannot be silenced

The Zaman media group, whose editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı was among those detained on Sunday during an ongoing government crackdown on critical media, has released a press statement in seven languages stressing that it will not stop producing independent journalism or bow to government pressure.

Sunday's police operations have attracted widespread attention from the world media, with many commentators expressing their dismay at the situation of the freedom of the press in Turkey.

The press statement was released in Turkish, English, German, French, Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

The detentions came as part of recent police operations that have targeted TV screenwriters and former police officers in addition to journalists. The suspects are variously accused of "forming, leading or being a member of an armed terrorist organization," "forgery" and "slander," according to a statement released by the İstanbul Prosecutor's Office.

The detentions came days after a government-sponsored bill made it possible to arrest suspects based on "reasonable doubt" alone was signed into law. An earlier document had revealed that suspects in the recent spate of detentions were being accused of taking over the sovereignty of the Turkish Republic by pressure and threats, establishing an illegal gang, faking documents, restricting people's freedom and libel.

The police officers detained are reportedly those who carried out raids against the Tahşiye group in 2009, which is alleged to have links to al-Qaeda. Five police officials who are accused of being part of an illegal gang are currently behind bars from a separate investigation and are waiting to be brought to a courthouse to be interrogated by prosecutors.

The English text of Zaman's press statement reads as follows:
“Today is an extremely sad day for Turkish democracy and freedom of the press. Colleagues including our Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanli have been detained on unfounded allegations.

Turkey's record on press freedoms has recently been on a steep decline. Freedom House has downgraded Turkey's ranking to 'not free' earlier this year. Today's mass detentions mark another major step back.

Since 1980's our media group has been a strong voice for freedom, Turkey's integration with advanced democracies, and domestic and international peace. Despite government orchestrated intimidation and legal harassment to journalists and news organizations in especially last few years, we continued doing our job consistently at all costs.

Our only crime is going after major corruption incidents and authoritarian tendencies. The pressure on Zaman and other members of the free media has been consistently on the rise from media bans to intimidating, even deporting reporters and pressuring companies not to advertise with them. Today's vicious attack on us and other colleagues
reaffirms the accuracy of our reporting.

Our readers, Turkish nation and the world must rest assured; we will not give in to fear and bullying. We are confident Turkey will one day leave this dark chapter behind and ultimately become a better democracy where press is totally free from suppression.”
 Published on Sunday's Zaman, 14 December 2014, Sunday