January 15, 2015

Members of press unite to stand against persecution by AK Party

Intellectuals agree that the time has come to work together for freedom of the press, regardless of the past, in a conference held in partnership with the İstanbul Institute and the Pak Media Workers Union in İstanbul on Thursday.

The first panel of the conference kicked off with Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı recounting the ludicrousness of his detention and the arrest of Samanyolu TV Group Chairman Hidayet Karaca as a result of the Dec. 14, 2014 operation against the media. Although Dumanlı was released, Karaca has been taken into custody in Silivri Prison.

“The events that have occurred in oppressing the press stand as one of the most absurd actions in the world, so much so that if Franz Kafka were to come back from his grave, and were to write something about irrationality, it would be something like [what is happening now],” said the Zaman head.

Dumanlı, Karaca and other members of the Turkish media faced charges of being members of a terrorist group, depriving people of liberty by using force, making threats and slander. In his testimony, Dumanlı denied allegations that he had defamed suspected members of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as Tahşiyeciler (Annotators), whose leader's complaint was the basis of the politically orchestrated crackdown on the media. It is widely believed that the persecution of Hizmet-affiliated media such as Samanyolu and Zaman are related to the exposure of alleged corruption by members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

“They still say that none of this [the pressure on Zaman] has to do with freedom of the press, but when I asked the prosecutor and the judge if the entire matter of concern was two column pieces and one news piece, they both said yes,” Dumanlı continued.

“I told the prosecutor and the judge that if there is an actual crime that I have committed then I will willingly go to jail for 10 years. I said, ‘Look, my daughter was born just two hours ago, if I have committed a crime then I will willingly serve 20 years in jail, but there is no reason to fabricate absurd allegations!” Dumanlı said.

The editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily also emphasized that it is not only the media that is facing pressure from the AK Party, saying: “Never before has Turkish media reached such a state of calamity. […] But it is not just the media, everyone is under pressure. […] Businessmen are under pressure. Politicians of other parties are under pressure.” Dumanli then gave examples of how Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici, ex-AK Party deputy İdris Bal who has formed the new Democratic Progress Party (DGP), and the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) have all been facing pressure from the AK Party.

Cumhuriyet faces pressure because of Charlie Hebdo

During the conference , much attention was focused on the police raid and halting of distribution of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet on Wednesday due to the paper's reprinting of certain parts of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo's first edition since last week's attack. The paper printed a four-page selection of cartoons and articles on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo but left out cartoons which Muslims may find offensive. However, two Cumhuriyet columnists used small, black-and-white images of the Charlie Hebdo cover as their column headers.

“For police to surround the building of a newspaper before the pages are even printed only happens during coup or military junta periods. It is like interfering with a newly pregnant mother before the baby can even be seen on the ultrasound,” Dumanlı commented.

Cumhuriyet columnist Aydın Engin, who was also present during the conference, began the second panel by saying, “There have been two major incidents, as well as many other events, but two major events have happened in the oppression of the media and those have been against Zaman and against Cumhuriyet.”

In reference to parts of society that do not subscribe to the Hizmet ideology, or to the ruling AK Party's, and who remain critical of both groups and have made statements that do not sympathize with the persecution that Hizmet-related media have been undergoing, Dumali said, “Those who say let them eat each other, they will definitely eat you too, then!”

Lawyer, journalist and human rights activist, Orhan Kemal Cengiz stated: “… What has happened in the past has passed. Right now, it is time for everyone needs to come together at this point. Everyone who believes in democracy, everyone who defends democracy, needs to come together, however, people do not trust one another.” He also commented that it is time for the Zaman and Cumhuriyet dailies, two publications that have thoroughly different editorial lines, to come together in the face of the oppression of the press.

Cengiz continued by saying: “We live in such a fantastical world that we only look to criticize our opponent, because that is the type of culture that we come from. The leftists have not faced and held themselves accountable for the violence of the past, the Kurdish political movement has never faced the judgments of the PKK [the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party], the right in Turkey has never faced the massacre against Alevis or the Armenian genocide.”

The lawyer also included the Hizmet movement's media, saying they also need to self-reflect on their faults during the Ergenekon trials, saying, “The Cemaat [Hizmet] media has not faced that they did not play a role where they could have, and in fact played a part in the trials that was unjust.”

Professor and writer Ayhan Aktar made commentary to the alleged corruption of members of the AK Party, saying: “Why would a party that won with 50 percent of the population's vote be so afraid? […] It is because it is not normal to have a money counting machine in your home.”

Aktar also went onto address Dumanlı, mentioning the editor-in-chief's daughter, who was born on the day of his release. Aktar said: “You would still be jailed. Thank your daughter, because no government would have been able to overcome a journalist being jailed with a newborn daughter.”

Editor-in-chief of Today's Zaman, Bülent Keneş, criticized the AK Party in his commentary during the conference saying: “As the AKP [AK Party] continues, they are no longer trying to lead the country. […] [President] Erdoğan and the gang he has built around him are trying to dominate Turkey.” Keneş highlighted that the corruption allegations, unjust acts and cooperation of the AK Party with international terrorist organizations, concluding by saying: “We need to recognize that it is not just about freedom of the press, but there is a much bigger threat at hand that we are facing here today.”

Participants at the conference together wrote a final declaration stating: “The fourth branch of the separations of powers in democracy, which is the media, is facing practices that are reminiscent of the coup period. […] The media and its ability to gather news, publish news and to receive information are facing censorship, persecution and prevention [of carrying out their work] as they never have before. The statement further read, “The media should act without polarization and self-criticize for the freedom and democracy of its professional framework.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 15 January 2015, Thursday