September 23, 2015

Gov’t is focus of criticism for arrest of Avcı and probes into journalists

Reactions continue to pour in condemning the arrest of Gültekin Avcı, a prosecutor-turned-journalist, on charges of establishing a terrorist organization, as well as the investigations of some journalists who ran stories critical of the government, including that of German Green Party co-leader Cem Özdemir, who has said that the arrest of a journalist over columns is not something that would be acceptable elsewhere in the world.

Avcı was arrested on Sunday for writing of an alleged link between the government, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the Iranian-backed Tawhid-Salam terrorist organization in seven columns in the Bugün daily published between 2013 and 2014.

Appearing on Samanyolu Haber TV's “Avrupa Masası” (European Desk) program on Tuesday, Özdemir stressed that Avcı's arrest for his pieces published in the Bugün daily contradicts the principles of democracy and cannot be tolerated, adding: "Creating a link between Avcı's columns and terrorism is unacceptable. I condemn the pressure."

Stating that it is not the mission of journalists to please politicians and governments, Özdemir added: "Not a single journalist should be put behind bars because of their views."

When reminded that several other journalists, such as Ahmet Altan and Hasan Cemal, have also faced legal action due to criticism leveled at the interim Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Özdemir responded: "Turkey faces a risk of radicalization and it is not only limited to politicians. The tendency toward radicalization within the government has an influence on people; they feel more hatred for each other. So, it is a proclivity that should be stopped immediately. Those who have the power to halt this are the voters in Turkey. They already did it decisively in the June 7 general election. It is already a clear message."

Özdemir further commented that no matter which segment of the society is targeted by the government with threats to journalists, he perceives any kind of oppression of any media outlet, regardless of its editorial line, as an attack on his own rights.

"Pressure on the media is equal to one that has been imposed on me," Özdemir stated.

Politicians raise their voices against pressure on media

A summary of proceedings prepared by the police about the case against Avcı revealed that a number of other journalists were also being targeted with government investigations, the Bugün daily reported on Tuesday.

The summary of proceedings, prepared on the order of İstanbul Public Prosecutor İrfan Fidan, may thus pave the way for the detention of journalists who have been critical Erdoğan and the interim AK Party government with accusations of participating in acts of terrorism because the journalists' work has been cited as evidence of participating in acts of terrorism.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Necati Yılmaz also criticized the arrest of Avcı and journalists being accused of participating in acts of terrorism on Tuesday, saying: "We are experiencing a period of time in which journalists' articles, news coverage and interviews are seen as a coup attempt against the government."

Yılmaz further noted: "By imposing pressure on the press and censoring it, the public is prevented from exercising its right to freely access information. In fact, Erdoğan intervened in the media by ordering some media managers to censor dissenters. The country has indeed undergone a civilian coup [by Erdoğan] and all the state's bodies have been affected negatively as a result of the coup. All these institutions have been disabled with this intervention."

Another CHP deputy, Mahmut Tanal, also on Tuesday lambasted both arrest of Avcı and the justification for the arrest, as well as the summary of proceedings that will enable the additional investigation and detention of a group of critical journalists, defined the probe as politically-motivated rather than lawful and legitimate.

"The real [terrorist] organization consists of those who launch such legal actions against journalists on the basis of serving a common ideal. This dirty structure nested in the state should be examined. Their aim is to muzzle the media, as all authoritarian regimes do," Tanal said.

Fikret Duran, the lawyer representing Avcı, told Today's Zaman on Monday that he has appealed Avcı's arrest at the 3rd Penal Court of Peace in İstanbul

Avcı was arrested on the basis of seven columns published in the Bugün daily between 2013 and 2014 about the Iranian-backed Tawhid-Salam terrorist group. Tawhid-Salam was formally defined as a terrorist organization for engaging in espionage against the national security of Turkey with a ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2014 and allegedly has ties to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Avcı is currently being held in İstanbul's Silivri Prison and he was prevented from using his right to testify to Fidan, who is overseeing the investigation. The ruling for an arrest was made by Judge Durmuş Karaçalı, despite Karaçalı previously having launched a criminal complaint against Avcı because Avcı had requested that Karaçalı be replaced as judge in another case.

Avcı is also accused of plotting to bring down interim AK Party government with the ideas expressed in his columns.

Published on Today's Zaman, 23 September 2015, Wednesday