The arrest of Today's Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş late on Friday in İstanbul has sparked international condemnation, prompting the US and the EU to express dismay over the abysmal state of press freedom in the face of a government crackdown on critical media outlets and journalists.
İstanbul police, after the issuance of an arrest warrant by a local court, arrived at Zaman headquarters to take Keneş into custody amid protests by staff who alleged it was a politically motivated arrest. A day before, İstanbul prosecutor Umut Tepe sought an arrest warrant for Keneş based on tweets critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on charges of "insulting the president," but the court rejected his request. After another attempt on Friday, an İstanbul court issued an arrest warrant for Keneş, who surrendered to police outside the Zaman building later in in the day amid a strong show of solidarity and support from colleagues. His arrest also sparked outrage from Turkey's Western allies, prompting swift condemnation.
"As we've said before, we are concerned by the increasing number of investigations into media outlets for criticism of the government and for accusations of allegedly disseminating terrorist propaganda. We are also concerned by the aggressive use of judicial inquiries to curb free speech," Katy Bondy, of the US State Department press office, said regarding Keneş's arrest.
"We call on Turkey to respect the media freedoms and due process protections that are enshrined in the Turkish constitution. They are key elements in every healthy democracy," she said of the arrest of Keneş. She also said that "it is particularly important to allow different voices and viewpoints to be expressed during the campaign period," as the country is preparing for re-run of the general election on Nov. 1 after an inconclusive June 7. poll.
"The quality of Turkey's democracy matters to us. We expect the Turkish authorities to uphold Turkey's core values, democratic foundations, and universally recognized fundamental freedoms," she added.
Earlier on Friday, Douglas Frantz, the US Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, criticized the arrest of Keneş, tweeting that "This is not a democracy."
Watson: Turkish democracy at risk
The arrest of a prominent journalist and editor ignited widespread criticism among European diplomats and politicians.
"Attacks on Turkey's Zaman a tragedy. Resignation of Dumanli and arrest of Kenes tell us Turkey goes from bad to worse. Democracy at risk," Graham Watson, the president of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party in Europe, said on Twitter following Keneş's arrest.
"The sudden arrest of Bülent Keneş today in the Zaman building leaves me without words. The strategy to silence the media was already awful before last elections. But has no limits before the snap elections," said Rebecca Harms, co-chairwoman of the Greens in the European Parliament.
"I hope that all democratic journalists and media in Turkey will show solidarity with their colleagues arrested or threatened. And I hope that Turkish citizens will show with their vote that they want free media and democracy," she said in a statement to Sunday's Zaman.
"The EU must strongly condemn this new attack against media freedom and democracy, and we should send an ad hoc group to investigate the situation of journalists and media in Turkey," she said.
Published on Today's Zaman, 10 October 2015, Saturday