September 2, 2015

Jurists define gov’t-led raid on critical media as act of despotism

The police raid on the Bugün daily, a media outlet critical of the government owned by Koza İpek Holding, on Tuesday has been slammed by a number of jurists as the crackdown is viewed as another act of intimidation by the interim Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

On Tuesday morning the police in Ankara raided the premises of Koza İpek Holding, which is critical of the government, just as Bugün, which is owned by the group, had run a story that same day carrying video stills showing an illegal weapons transfer to radical terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Turkish Bar Association (TBB) Chairman Metin Feyzioğlu said, "We should unite against this despotism,” after defining the raid on the media group as another step along the path towards despotism in the country.

"We should join against this form of despotism carried out with raids on certain and critical media groups. The real meaning of honesty is to raise one's voice against any type of injustice against those whose ideas we don't even share. We are all in the same boat and some are trying to sink this boat. If we stand against this, then the government will have to consider this [resistance]," Feyzioğlu noted.

Niyazi Öktem, a professor of law, posted consecutive tweets via his Twitter account on Tuesday criticizing the police operation on the group: "I have never before experienced a time where such a great amount of injustice and unlawfulness have taken place."

Öktem further tweeted: "The aim of the crackdown is to silence all dissent while the country is heading toward a new election."

Despite the result of the June 7 general election appearing to have unseated the AK Party from power by overhauling its parliamentary majority and suggesting a coalition government of at least two or more of the political parties in Parliament, the interim government dragged its feat over the setting up of a coalition and last month called a snap election in line with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's wishes.

Criticizing the government-orchestrated crackdown on Bugün, Vural Ergül, a lawyer who previously acted on behalf of the defendants of the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) military coup case, has lambasted the attempt to squeeze the free and critical media, which regularly details the government and Erdoğan's misconduct and mistakes.

Speaking to the daily on Tuesday, Ergül said: "How shameful! Instead of preventing [Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK terrorism that targets members of the security forces, the police were tasked with serving the chief thief [a reference to President Erdoğan and the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption scandal, implicating Erdoğan's inner circle and then-Cabinet members]. Had the PKK terrorism been addressed decisively, then the problem would have been eliminated. What is this [crackdown] called if not a form of fascism?"

Denizli Bar Association head Müjdat İlhan also lashed out at the government for the police operation on Bugün, saying the bar association is against the efforts to intimidate the critical media by means of fabricated reasons.

"The application of pressure on dissidents has revealed how the proper functioning of the law is crucial for everyone. All attempts to restructure the law in compliance with a certain class's interest hurt [people's] consciences, and all jurists. I call for all the efforts to manipulate the law to end as soon as possible. The press is [a crucial platform that needs] freedom to report. We object to the attempts to muzzle media outlets through empty reasons," İlhan said.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, Rıza Türmen -- the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) İzmir deputy and a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) -- also criticized the government-backed intimidation operation on the group. “The raids and the reasons for it are against international law and the Constitution. As Article 28 of the Constitution obviously explains, the media cannot be censored or seized. Freedom of the press is essential and key in terms of other freedoms,” Türmen said. “With these raids, we face an explicit violation of many rights defined by international law. If the press is not free in a country then no one can say [there is] democracy there. In such countries, a type of dictatorship exists."

Metin Günday, a professor of administrative law, told Today's Zaman that the raids not only equate to interference in freedom of the press but also intervene in people's right to access information. "Such operations cannot be accepted. As a democrat I object to this," Günday said.

Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk, a law professor by profession, told Today's Zaman that such intimidatory efforts aim to apply pressure on voters in the leadup to snap elections set for Nov. 1. "If freedom of the press does not exist in a country then democracy cannot be claimed to exist. The application of pressure, in the environment of an early election, should be stopped and condemned on every level," Türk warned.

Lawyer Celal Ülgen also told Today's Zaman that the operations have further enhanced the feeling of distrust regarding the interim election government. "No state body is currently functioning properly. All state institutions and their officials obey a single man's [meaning Erdoğan's] instructions,” Ülgen stressed. “All the country's citizens should resist the cruel and dark practices of the present period, which is heading for a form of fascism. It is not unknown that such operations will expand to other media groups. The target is to create a single pro-government media ahead of the election.”

Sedat Laçiner, a professor of international relations at Çanakkale University, believes the crackdown represents a new peak in the ongoing attacks on press freedom. "The press is not free in Turkey as the latest incident has confirmed. The number of those media outlets who have been capable of criticizing the government was already fewer and now the rest are being suffocated,” Laçiner stressed.

Koza İpek Holding includes Kanaltürk, Bugün TV, the Bugün daily, İpek University and Koza Holding. The residence of Akın İpek, owner of the group, was also searched by the police.

Bugün daily Editor-in-Chief Erhan Başyurt posted several tweets on his personal Twitter account, saying: "A police operation that aims to silence our group has started. Police raided our office. How shameful!"

"The operation has come right after we revealed the illegal shipment of weapons to ISIL," he said in another tweet.

The daily claimed the video footage shows that a large amount of materials, including explosives, construction pipes and plates, were transferred to ISIL from Turkey's Akçakale border gate in the southeastern Şanlıurfa province, as Turkish customs officials stood by and watched.

Published on Today's Zaman, 1 September 2015, Tuesday