In another example of government pressure on the media in Turkey, the Bakırköy 2nd Penal Court of Peace has blocked access to four stories on the Zaman daily's website after a complaint was submitted by pro-government businessman Abdullah Tivnikli on May 8.
Although the court made the decision to block access to the stories on the same day that Tivnikli submitted his complaint, news of the ruling only reached Zaman's legal office on May 20. The details of the ruling reveal that the court decided that the stories damaged Tivnikli's reputation without allowing the daily to defend itself. However, according to the law that regulates the duties and responsibilities of penal courts of peace, they can ban access to websites but do not have the power to issue a ruling without allowing the accused party to defend itself.
This is not the first time the penal courts of peace have issued unlawful rulings in order to silence those who are critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). In an effort to restructure the judiciary in line with the government's instructions following a corruption scandal that went public on Dec. 17, 2013, Erdoğan ordered the establishment of the courts. The move is widely believed to be part of the government's struggle against the Gülen movement, which it considers responsible for the December 2013 probes. The Gülen movement, popularly known as Hizmet, is a faith-based movement that works in the fields of education and interfaith dialogue whose ideas are inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.
"We have finished legislation regarding the [establishment of] penal courts of peace. It is now waiting on the desk of [then-President Abdullah Gül]. When this law is approved, within a week or 10 days, I will do away with these people," Erdoğan said during a speech in June 2014, referring to supporters of the Hizmet movement.
Since their establishment, the courts have handed down rulings that have led to sweeping operations by the police force and the detention and arrest of dissident journalists and opinion leaders who are vocal in their criticism of the government's unlawful acts. Many observers consider that these courts are simply the government's apparatus to impose judicial pressure on the opposition.
In April, the İstanbul 3rd Criminal Court of Peace banned access to content at the websites of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) as well as aktifhaber.com, grihat.com, hbrdr.com, haberola.com, gündem.millet.com.tr, taraf.com.tr and duyarsiz.org, all of which reported on a story that appeared in the Cumhuriyet daily on March 17. Cumhuriyet had covered a story concerning the sister-in-law of an AK Party mayor in İstanbul, who claimed that she and her baby were the victims of an assault by a group of people in the Kabataş district of İstanbul during the Gezi Park protests in June 2013.
In another instance, the İstanbul 1st Penal Court of Peace temporarily blocked access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube on April 6 over the extensive sharing of photographs of a terrorist holding a gun to the head of an İstanbul prosecutor hours before the prosecutor was killed. Judge Bekir Altun said in his detailed ruling that the websites had engaged in "terrorism propaganda" by publishing photographs, videos and audio files while covering the hostage crisis on March 31. The judge accused the websites of endangering public order and security. Access to the websites was restored on the night of April 6 after they complied with Turkey's request to remove the offending content.
That same night, a court ordered a ban on access to Google if the website failed to remove the controversial photographs from its search results. However, the website later complied with the court order and no ban was enacted.
According to a story in the Cumhuriyet daily on April 13, the cumulative total of website bans in Turkey since 2008, either temporary or permanent, reached 77,521 at the end of March this year, a figure that stood at four in 2006.
Published on Today's Zaman, 26 May 2015, Tuesday