September 22, 2015

Arrest of Bugün columnist Avcı paves way for arrest of other press veterans

The arrest of Bugün columnist Gültekin Avcı over columns covering Iranian espionage, the same agents who killed prominent intellectuals like Uğur Mumcu and Bahriye Üçok, has opened the door for the persecution of many other prominent journalists who also appear in the investigation file.

Daily Bugün columnist Gültekin Avcı, a former public prosecutor and current lawyer to 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 put under arrest on Sunday after the prosecutor controversially extended his initial detention for three days.

The seven articles submitted as evidence against Avcı discussed Iranian agents and the mut’ah marriage – an Islamic temporary marriage practice – which they used to infiltrate the Turkish bureaucracy.

But Avcı’s arrest over the Tawhid-Salam case also opens the door for the persecution of the many other veteran journalists featured in the case file. The Tawhid-Salam investigation file contains not just Gültekin Avcı’s articles, but reports and interviews by the likes of the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and journalist Amberin Zaman, as well as statements by politicians such as Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu.

Can Dündar’s exposé of arms being shipped to Syrian extremists included in case file

Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor-on-duty İrfan Fidan, who ordered Avcı’s detention, had previously launched an espionage case against Can Dündar, on the grounds that the journalist's work with Cumhuriyet exposed the delivery of arms from the government to Syrian extremists.

The criminal complaint sought an aggravated life sentence, a second life sentence, and an additional 42-year sentence for Dündar on the grounds that he “established a criminal organization,” “violated confidentiality,” “committed a crime against the government,” “acquired classified information related to the security of the state,” committed “political and military espionage” and “published information that was meant to be classified.”

Washington Post’s David Ignatius also attempted a coup in Turkey

An article by Washington Post’s veteran journalist David Ignatius, which ran on Oct. 18, 2013, in Turkish daily Taraf, was also included as evidence of an attempted coup, espionage and involvement in an armed terrorist organization.

Taraf had run an op-ed penned by David Ignatius on October 16, 2013, titled “Turkey blows Israel's cover for Iranian spy ring,” which supposedly revealed coded instructions that were used by authorities to stop and search trucks delivering arms to Syrian extremists; the same incident Dündar is on trial for exposing.

Amberin Zaman’s PYD interview also an attempt at a coup

A police report appended to the case file targeted journalist Amberin Zaman, along with several other media outlets, for an interview she conducted with Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader Salih Muslim. The interview, titled “Turkey has stopped aiding al-Qaeda,” ran in Turkish daily Taraf on Nov. 8, 2013, and was also highlighted as a coup attempt and support for an armed terrorist organization.

An interesting detail is that yellow arrows were used to draw attention to Zaman’s article in particular.

The report claimed that journalists and newspapers ran such stories with the intention of systematically undermining the Republic of Turkey.

Newspaper article exposing government corruption also included

Additional cippings from dailies Bugün, Zaman and Habertürk, dating from Dec. 18, 2013 – a day after the corruption probe exposed wide-ranging corruption in the inner circle of the government – were also presented as evidence of an attempted coup plot.

Four former ministers – Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, Interior Minister Muammer Güler, European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış and Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar – all left their posts after being implicated in a major corruption and bribery investigation. According to the graft probe, which went public on Dec. 17, 2013, Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab is claimed to have distributed TRY 137 million (USD 66 million) in bribes to the former ministers, their sons and possibly a number of other bureaucrats in order to cloak fictitious exports and money laundering. A highly controversial scandal, Turkey’s political opposition regularly attacked the ruling party over the case, but the AK Party was able to use its majority in parliament to prevent thwart an investigation.

Columns by journalist Emre Uslu, and tweets saying things like “Good things are on the horizon,” were included as evidence of an attempted coup.

Even comments from CHP Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu to Turkish daily Taraf, in an interview dated Oct. 6, 2013, under the headline “Al Nusra’s main base is Ceylanpınar,” were presented as evidence for “an attempted coup” and for “involvement with a terrorist organization.”

Published on BGNNews, 22 September 2015, Tuesday