October 26, 2015

Jurists call for legal action against Erdoğan’s adviser for media censorship plot

A number of jurists have called on prosecutors to take immediate legal action over recent video footage that features the chief adviser of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urging a minister to drop critical TV channels from the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat).

The video footage, taken before a live interview with President Erdoğan earlier this year, has revealed that Mustafa Varank, one of Erdoğan's advisers and a board member of Türksat, urged then-Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Lütfi Elvan to drop critical TV channels with links to the faith-based Gülen movement from the platform.

TV channels Irmak TV, Bugün TV and Kanaltürk, known for their critical stance against the government, were recently notified by Türksat that their contracts would not be renewed as of November. The channels were told to remove their platforms from Türksat's infrastructure by the end of the month. This video footage provides evidence that the removal of those critical channels is politically motivated. Strongly criticizing Varank's remarks in the footage, various jurists have said Varank has committed a constitutional crime.

Stating that Varank gave an unlawful order, the jurists say prosecutors should take legal action against Varank as soon as possible.

The backstage footage, published by the Cumhuriyet daily on Saturday, shows Varank chatting with journalists Hilal Kaplan, Akif Beki, Saadet Oruç and Mahmut Övür before an interview with Erdoğan that was aired by the state-run broadcaster Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) news channel on Feb. 2. He informs the journalists he had told Elvan that TV channels close to the Gülen movement, a grassroots social initiative inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, should be dropped from Türksat but that Elvan had refused to do so, fearing public pressure.

“It is our fault. I told [Elvan] ‘let's take their [the Gülen movement's] channels off Türksat. It's a private company. The minister said it would spark a debate, etc. It would have been better,” Varan is heard telling Beki.

Speaking to the Bugün daily, Professor Osman Kaşıkçı, dean of Fatih University's school of law, said the kind of behavior that Varank engaged in cannot normally exist in a state governed by the rule of law. Kaşıkçı also said prosecutors should take action against the adviser for giving another minister an illegal order. “Ordering someone to do something illegal is within the scope of inciting someone to commit crimes and engaging in misconduct. The minister in question and the other bureaucrats who obeyed the illegal order have taken part in this crime,” Kaşıkçı said.

Administrative lawyer Turan Yıldırım, a professor at Marmara University, said the removal of critical media outlets from Türksat was aimed at silencing dissident media and the recent footage clearly proves this intention. Yıldırım said the footage can be presented to the court as evidence to show the illegality of Türksat's act. Mehmet Tucuk, a former senior bureaucrat from the Ministry of Justice, also spoke to Bugün and said an "institutional collapse" is taking place in Turkey, adding that almost all state institutions have been damaged, more or less, by this collapse. “There is a bureaucratic dirtiness in Turkey. The government and pro-government bureaucrats engage in illegal practices in favor of the political administration,” Tucuk said.

Contemporary Legalists Association President Hüseyin Biçen said the footage clearly proves that there is a plot designed by Varank against particular media outlets.

“Türksat's attempt to silence the independent media has led to an atmosphere of unfair competition in the Turkish media. With this footage, the license of Türksat can easily be removed for its decisions that violate the principle of fair competition. The necessary legal proceedings must be opened regarding the issue,” Biçen said.

Diyarbakır Bar Association President Tahir Elçi also said the video clearly shows that Varank committed the crime of influencing the judiciary. “The constitutional provisions clearly say that no one can give orders or suggestions to the judiciary. Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Article 277 also outlines that there should be a punishment for this.”

CHP also calls on prosecutors to take steps over footage

Jurists were joined by politicians in expressing their reactions against Varank. Speaking to the Doğan news agency, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Erdal Aksünger said Varank clearly confessed his crime in the footage, adding that the prosecutors should consider the footage evidence and prepare an indictment against him. Aksünger also said the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) should take the necessary steps and punish TV streaming platforms such as Türksat and Digiturk for dropping critical TV channels.

Türksat's board of managers consists of eight members, with four of those members as current or former advisers of President Erdoğan. All board managers were appointed by the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications.

The Court of Accounts previously criticized this situation in an inspection report it prepared on Türksat and questioned why no member of the board of managers was from the Undersecretariat for the Treasury of the Prime Ministry, which holds 100 percent of the company's shares. The Court of Accounts also stated in its report that the Undersecretariat for the Treasury should be using its rights and privileges as the only shareholder and thus the undersecretariat should have at least one representative on the board of managers.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 October 2015, Monday