May 13, 2015

Media distribution company target of police raid

Seven businesses, including a media distribution office, were raided by the police in the western province of Manisa on Wednesday, the fourth such operation in the province that targeted institutions believed to be affiliated with the Hizmet or Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The raids targeted Cihan Medya Dağıtım A.Ş., which distributes the Zaman and Today's Zaman dailies. This was the fourth such operation in the province and, along with a similar raid in the northwestern province of Sakarya, it is believed to be the resumption of a government-led retribution campaign against dissenting sections of society. One major target of the campaign is the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, a faith-based grassroots initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Among the other firms targeted in this government-led crackdown on sections of society with views opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) were insurance agencies, accounting offices, a construction company, a clothing store and a shoe store.

Also targeted was the Sakarya Entrepreneurs and Industrialists Association (SAGİAD), a prominent business association in the province. Computers in the building were searched as riot police were deployed outside. Members of the press were not allowed inside during the raid.

The businesses are accused of financing the “parallel structure,” a derogatory term invented by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his associates to refer to sympathizers of the Hizmet movement. The operations are widely believed to be an act of retribution by President Erdoğan's administration for a corruption investigation that went public in December 2013. Erdoğan claims that the Hizmet movement initiated a failed coup against his government. The graft probe incriminated four former Cabinet ministers, businessmen with close ties to the government, senior bureaucrats and family members of then-Prime Minister Erdoğan.

Wednesday's raids follow similar police operations in Manisa this month that targeted civil society organizations as well as the Manisa office of the Kimse Yok Mu charity. The offices of dozens of associations have been raided in three waves of police operations since early May. Other CSOs such as the Feza Educational and Cultural Foundation and the Health and Education Association, the Social Aid Association, the Moris Şinasi International Children's Health Association, the Manisa Public Education and Teaching Association, the Health and Social Assistance Association and the Aviation Community Sports Association were targeted in the operation which took place last week.

The raids were even criticized by Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who said he had a hard time explaining to his voters why these associations were being targeted by the police.

Operations based on suspicion are now the norm in Turkey as a judicial package that introducing the much criticized “reasonable suspicion” clause was signed into effect by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Dec. 12. The reasonable suspicion law lowers the threshold for searches and reverses a law from February 2014 that allowed courts to grant the police the power to search people and property only when there was "strong suspicion based on concrete evidence.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 13 May 2015, Wednesday