March 12, 2015

US politicians concerned over dwindling press freedom in Turkey

Members of the Texas state legislature expressed concerns over the declining freedom of the press in Turkey at a reception in Austin on Tuesday, saying the principle is crucial for freedom of expression and a healthy democracy.

Reacting to recent government crackdowns on free media in Turkey, American politicians called the recent arrests of journalists for simply doing their jobs -- and that of Samanyolu TV Group Chairman Hidayet Karaca over a soap opera -- as undesirable acts unheard of in truly democratic countries.

Organized by the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE) and the American Turkic Business Council (ATBC) on March 10, the Turkic American Friendship Reception showcased Turkish food, classical music, calligraphy and water marbling in the capital of Texas.

Apart from Turkish and American businessmen, members of both communities, bureaucrats and officials attended the reception. Also in attendance were more than 20 senators and deputies representing Texas cities in the Texas State Senate and the Texas House of Representatives.

In his opening speech, State Senator Eddie Lucio said he is proud of the Turkish community in Texas, which ardently works for the friendship of the two countries based on democracy and human rights. Lucio noted that those who truly understand Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammad are united against the intolerance and extremism that creates inter-religion hatred.

Senator Royce West, a lawyer and a member of the Texas State Senate, said journalists in democratic countries across the world should be free, as is the case in the US. Politicians might not agree with all of a journalist's reports but that shouldn't lead them to restrict press freedoms. All politicians should be ready to be criticized, West added.

Emphasizing the success of the Turkish community in Texas, Democratic Member of the Texas House of Representatives Ron Reynolds said that all representatives in Texas diligently work with all communities, especially the Turkish community, which has a strong voice in the Texas legislature. Reynolds invited Turkish businessmen to foster healthy, strong and long-term relationships with their partners in Texas, which is ready to offer its business resources.

According to Senator Sylvia Garcia, it is impossible to talk about a real and healthy democracy unless it has a free media. All freedoms, including freedom of expression and the media, must be the foundation of any true democracy no matter how wealthy it is, Garcia said.

Reacting to the arrest of Samanyolu's Karaca as part of a government-orchestrated media crackdown on Dec. 14, 2014, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, Ramon Romero, said even someone with a little education is able to differentiate between a real conspiracy and a fictional soap opera. “People have to refer to and get lessons from history so as not to repeat the same mistakes,” Romero added.

Karaca was detained in a government-backed operation against media organizations affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement -- along with Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, soap opera scriptwriters and police officers -- on charges of being members of an armed terrorist organization. But no concrete evidence was provided in court except a conversation from an episode of a TV series aired on Samanyolu TV in 2009 and two articles, and a story, from the Zaman daily.

The prosecution used the limited evidence base to argue that those detained had been targeting a radical religious group with links to al-Qaeda. A court arrested Karaca and three police officers on Dec. 19, 2014, while the others were released pending trial.

Published on Today's Zaman, 12 March 2015, Thursday