September 23, 2015

CHP Media Commission warns arrest of Bugün columnist Avcı a grave threat

The public outcry against the arrest of daily Bugün columnist Gültekin Avcı continues to grow, with the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Media Suppression Monitoring Committee warning that this latest media crackdown by Ankara is a threat against any and all journalists.

“This situation is the clearest indication that all journalists are at risk of being put under arrest,” said Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Barış Yarkadaş. “The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) now holds any writing in Turkey as comparable to committing an act of terrorism.”

Daily Bugün columnist Gültekin Avcı, a former public prosecutor and current lawyer of Samanyolu Media Group CEO Hidayet Karaca, was detained on Friday on the orders of Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor-on-duty İrfan Fidan as part of the Tawhid-Salam investigation. Tawhid-Salam is an alleged Iran-backed terrorist organization which was investigated for three years by Turkish police and allegedly involves high ranking politicians.

Seven of Avcı’s columns were submitted as evidence for the charges that he “relayed to members of the FETÖ organization the orders of Fethullah Gülen” and that he “molded public opinion by way of the press.”

FETÖ, or Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization, is a derogatory term President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his political associates developed in order to disparage Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has criticized the government, accusing it of being corrupt, of practicing favoritism, and of abusing religion for political and personal gain.

Avcı was placed under arrest Sunday after the prosecutor controversially extended his detention for three days.

Barış Yarkadaş, who serves on the CHP’s Media Suppression Monitoring Committee, noted that Gültekin Avcı had been sent to prison over fabricated reasons that didn’t even exist in the Turkish Criminal Code. “This is the pinnacle of arbitrariness. This is simply not recognizing law.”

“All journalists must come together and take a stand against the AK Party administration’s war on democracy and freedom,” he added, “because the AK Party sees all critical voices as enemies.”

Fellow commission member and MP Eren Erdem suggested that this latest crackdown was simply an attempt by the AK Party to pull the media in line before the Nov. 1 snap elections, especially those media outlets working to disclose government responsibility in the recent escalation of terrorism.

“These attacks against journalists and journalism clearly display how deep President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s fear of Nov. 1 runs,” Erdem said.

He noted that the government was attempting to run Turkey as a narrow oligarchy run by a politburo. “They disregard every basic principle of democracy. And people pay the price. This habit of making people pay the price shows just how far along in dictatorship and fascism we’ve come.”

MP Utku Çakırözer pointed out that the suppression of the media was nothing new: “Such suppression has occurred since 2007. Yesterday a colleague of ours was made a victim, today another colleague, tomorrow it might be someone else. The CHP stands against [this corruption of the law], of it being used [for political reasons]. These are actions that have no place in a society with the rule of law.”

Such actions are the hallmark of authoritarian regimes

CHP Deputy Mahmut Tanal argued that such investigations were completely political and unlawful, ultimately seeking to scare and intimidate people. “The real point is to intimidate all journalists and make the press speak as a single voice. This is a tactic seen in authoritarian regimes. In such regimes, the government is upset by differing opinions, and journalists are molded into a single voice. That’s what they’re trying to do,” said Tanal.

The CHP’s Necati Yılmaz asserted that the press was the guarantor of all freedoms: “By suppressing press freedom, by employing censorship, they’re attempting to close off the channels by which the public receives information.”

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Seyfettin Yılmaz added: “They’re targeting everyone who doesn’t bow to them. These actions unfortunately tarnish Turkey’s image in the world.” His colleague, MHP Deputy Süleyman Korkmaz agreed: “The entire world is laughing at us. They’re mocking us. Meanwhile the government is mocking the public’s intelligence.”

“We have no doubt that President Erdoğan and the people under his command are attempting to establish an empire of fear in Turkey,” said pro-Kurdish, leftwing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Deputy Ertuğrul Kürkçü. “Everything we’re living today is actually seen in all dictatorships. A group that manages to grab power uses the judges, police and secret service under its command to destroy everyone with differing opinions.”

HDP Deputy Ali Kenanoğlu added that not even in the periods of martial law following the coups was media suppression this bad. “Back then journalists were still allowed to do their job somewhat. But now we’ve gotten to a point where any journalist who doesn’t write what the government wants or likes is unable to do their job.”

Former prosecutor for the State Security Court Mete Göktürk said Avcı’s arrest for membership in a terrorist organization over his columns was “unacceptable.”

“Then you could say this for every critical voice,” he pointed out. “This seems to have become the standard attitude taken against all critical voices. Journalists are being detained easily over such allegations. This is not normal.”

Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk added that Turkey had lost all tolerance for critical voices, saying: “Investigations against people who express themselves and share their thoughts are really about the suppression of opposition voices. Such actions cannot be seen in democratic countries.”

Published on BGNNews, 23 September 2015, Wednesday