May 16, 2015

Erdoğan ratchets up crackdown on opponents via confiscation plans

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has apparently accelerated his campaign to have the assets of civil society groups and free media outlets confiscated by the state through fabricated claims such as labeling them as "terrorist groups" ahead of the upcoming June election.

The Gülen -- or Hizmet -- movement has been targeted by Erdoğan and the pro-government media, which is used to defame the country's anti-government civil society and business groups as well individuals. Doğan Holding, which owns the country's largest media group including the Hürriyet Daily News, TV stations Kanal D and CNN Turk, has also been threatened with confiscation by Erdoğan, high-ranking government officials and pro-government media spin-doctors.

Erdoğan recently slammed the Doğan Media Group for its coverage of a hostage crisis at İstanbul Courthouse early April, which resulted in the deaths of a public prosecutor and his captors, saying those who published “terrorist propaganda” were “partners” in the prosecutor's killing on March 31.

Erdoğan claimed that such coverage would never be excusable in Western countries, where “media organizations that are turned into tools for propaganda for terrorism and the terrorists are immediately confiscated by the hand of the law.”

In the latest instance of an attempt to seize the assets of his opponents' groups, Erdoğan, who accuses the Gülen movement of being a "parallel structure" that aims to topple the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, said that the fight against the movement will be sped up at home and abroad by closing down or confiscating those schools affiliated with the Gülen movement, on Thursday en route from Albania to Turkey during the flight. There are more than 1,000 schools abroad.

Speaking to certain pro-government journalists, "[The Ministry of Education] MEB Foundation will get in contact with the ministries of those countries in order to deal with the issues [linked to these schools]. If required, their property will be seized. The struggle against the 'parallel structure' will gain momentum after September," Erdoğan threatened.

Trying to put pressure on foreign countries to shut down these schools, despite the fact that his demands have fallen on deaf ears, Erdoğan has recently launched another initiative to seize the land and buildings of these schools on the pretext that the schools are not being properly administered.

In a more concrete instance of the government-led pressure on business circles, the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) took managerial control of the majority of Asya Bank's privileged shares, citing the absence of the information on shareholders in February.

Although the Bank Asya management delivered the required documents regarding its shareholders to the bank and then sent it to the BDDK, the banking watchdog has not yet handed back the management of the bank.

MGK seen as tool by Erdoğan to realize confiscation plan

In an attempt to find legal ground for his unlawful plan to seize the properties of dissidents, Erdoğan has seemingly decided to use the National Security Council (MGK) by defining the country's religious communities and other civil society groups as a "threat to the state" and adding the definition to the National Security Strategy Concept Paper (MGSB), often referred to as the "Red Book."

Though the body's decisions are not legally binding and are expressed as advice on paper, the president apparently gave the MGK a role in his "witch hunt" against the opposition.

In one of his recent speeches, Erdoğan signaled that the definition in question will enter the Red Book soon and will lead to the elimination of all groups defined as a threat to the state.

Another way of seizing the assets of these opponent groups is through a recently passed law which allows the state to confiscate non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals' assets based on "reasonable suspicion" instead of "concrete suspicion based on solid evidence."

AK Party deputy threatens to confiscate assets of Gülen movement supporters

AK Party Kastamonu deputy Hakkı Köylü recently said the government may confiscate the property of those who support the “parallel structure."

Köylü, who is also the deputy chairman of Parliament's Justice Commission, said that once the “parallel structure” is included on the list of terrorist organizations, then those who financially support the activities of the Gülen movement would be considered to be financing terrorism.

In a move not seen even during the military coup regimes, Köylü threatened those who support the movement's educational, charitable, academic and other peaceful activities, saying that providing donations for these activities will not be a defense. “People may consider it a threat, but I am saying this because later people may say they didn't know about such a thing,” Köylü added.

Erdoğan and the AK Party government launched a war on the Gülen movement after corruption and bribery investigations went public on Dec. 17, 2013, revealing that four ministers as well as members of the AK Party government, including members of Erdoğan's family, were allegedly implicated. Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan has claimed the corruption probe was an attempted coup and blamed it on sympathizers of the movement, particularly those in the police force and judiciary.

The investigation has since been dropped and numerous members of the police force as well as judges and prosecutors have been reassigned or removed from duty.

Gov't media spin-doctor Cem Küçük threatens Doğan Holding and Gülen movement

A columnist from the pro-government Star daily, Cem Küçük, recently threatened both media mogul Aydın Doğan, owner of Doğan Holding, with a heavy government crackdown on his businesses unless his media outlets adopt a pro-government stance, and also threatened media outlets affiliated with the Gülen movement with the seizure of their assets.

In his recent columns, Küçük accused the Doğan media group of "treason" and "defending the terrorist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C)," which was responsible for a hostage-taking. Küçük also claimed, two months ago, that Aydın Doğan would face a tax penalty of TL 4.6 billion, and that his media outlets would be confiscated.

In January 2014, Küçük predicted that an operation would be staged against newspapers and media organizations such as the Zaman and the Bugün dailies, as well as Samayolu TV, and that the journalists who work for those organizations would be brought to trial.

Politicians and representatives of NGOs lambast Erdoğan for crackdowns

Also, as a part of the intimidation campaign against civil society organizations (CSO), seven businesses, including a media distribution office, were recently raided by police in the western province of Manisa, the fourth such operation in the province to target institutions believed to be affiliated with the Gülen Movement.

Reacting harshly to the Erdoğan-led witch hunt against perceived opponents, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Manisa deputy Özgür Özel told Today's Zaman that the crackdown on tradespeople through raids, with no proof of any criminal activity, constitutes a criminal offense. “This it why we were against the security bill that paved the way for these kinds of raids and crackdowns. Any group or individual might be targeted by the political authority on the grounds that they are not supporters of the government," Özel stated.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, Law and Life Association President Mehmet Kasap complained that government pressure has started to threaten the country's economy and society, adding: "Attempts to draw the MGK into political discussions regarding certain decisions will yield no results. The MGK's decisions have no place in the law and they are not binding. The Red Book, as Erdoğan would have it, cannot constitute a reference for the judicial system. If being put in this book as a threat makes any sense to the president, he should not be in politics.” His comments referenced the MGK's previous decisions to consider any political party with an Islamic background a threat to the state.

People's Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chairman Ertuğrul Kürkçü, who also spoke to Today's Zaman, slammed both Erdoğan and the government, saying: "The security package was created to confiscate peoples' assets and to detain them without legal obstacles. Neither media outlets nor tradespeople are exempt from this crackdown. They aim to weaken the voters' wills before they head to the ballot box during the June elections."

Published on Today's Zaman, 15 May 2015, Friday