October 28, 2015

Politicians blast gov’t action against Koza İpek as coup against democracy

The appointment of partisan trustees by the government to take over the management of Koza İpek Holding, which also owns some critical media outlets, has been met with widespread criticism by the opposition, which described the move as an unlawful seizure and a coup against the rule of law.

“If a public prosecutor can seize a [business] group via a [simple official] notice and appoint a trustee, that means the rule of law and democracy is suspended there,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said on Tuesday.

Underlining that such an arbitrary takeover of a company demonstrates that there is no security of life and property in Turkey, the CHP leader said the appointment of pro-government figures as trustees is even graver. “This indicates the judiciary is not independent, that it is taking orders from the government,” he said.

The Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace on Monday ruled that trustees be appointed to replace the existing boards of directors of Koza and its companies based on a demand by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office.

Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), harshly criticized the appointment of the trustees, saying the government is acting crazily.

Noting that the government is trying to bring under control all the free media outlets, he said in a meeting in Çorum that was part of the party's election campaign, “There is no crazy act that they [the government] will not do.”

“We are protesting this [illegal] seizure,” MHP deputy head Celal Adan told reporters on Tuesday, underlining that the takeover represents a violation of the rule of law.

In a show of solidarity against the illegal operation, Adan, accompanied by some other party officials, gathered in front of the İstanbul office of the Koza İpek media outlets.

Noting that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government is trying to intimidate all dissidents, he added, “[The AK Party] will be called to account by our people in the [upcoming] election for this seizure.”

Turkey will hold an early general election on Nov. 1.

The takeover of the holding was conducted based on an expert opinion that said there was no fault in the accounting books of the holding. The prosecutor argued in his notice it is suspicious for a holding to have such clean accounting practices given that it is almost impossible to achieve such a thing in Turkey.

According to Kılıçdaroğlu, the move shows this is an intentional operation by the government to seize the conglomerate.

Demanding to know, in a call to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, the grounds on which the management of the conglomerate is being taken over by trustees, the CHP head called on all media outlets, intellectuals, universities and bar associations to criticize the move, saying, “[Otherwise,] the government can seize, based on a note by a prosecutor, any media group or the properties of any holding.”

Sadir Durmaz, another MHP deputy head, also described the move as an illegal seizure by the government. “This is the latest example of government conduct that does not respect any rules,” he told the Cihan news agency.

Noting that the laws are being used by the government for political purposes to get rid of dissidents, Durmaz said this is a move aimed at eliminating dissenting media groups ahead of the election.

CHP Spokesperson Haluk Koç described the appointment of trustees without any solid grounds as piracy by the state. “With little time before the election, the picture we are confronted with may be interpreted as piracy by the state based on laws created to suit the needs of the [presidential] palace,” Koç told reporters in Edirne on Tuesday.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long been accused by the opposition of recklessly tampering with the rule of law to intimidate and silence dissidents.

Noting that universal norms of the rule of law have been shelved in Turkey, Koç warned bureaucrats against implementing illegal instructions by the government. Those who implement illegal instructions are also legally held responsible, he said.

Koç added those who are politically responsible for this move will be called to account before court the day the judiciary starts functioning in an independent way.

Mustafa Destici, the leader of the Grand Unity Party (BBP), told reporters in Eskişehir: “This government is trying to cover up its faults, the corruption it was involved in. Appointing trustees to [one of] the biggest companies in Turkey has cast a shadow on the Sunday election.”

Masum Türker, the leader of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), also criticized the operation for being politically motivated, mockingly telling reporters in İzmir that all other large companies in Turkey might also find themselves facing a similar treatment at any time.

According to Türker, the move is in fact related more to freedom of enterprise than to media freedom. “All business groups in Turkey may be subjected at any time to such a proceeding that was carried out without evidence, based on an expert's opinion, the accuracy of which is dubious,” Türker said.

The DSP leader also claimed the AK Party government is preparing to meddle with the Doğan Media Group, one of the country's most influential media group.

Türker added the pro-government trustees appointed by the court should be replaced.

Garo Paylan, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), said the operation is aimed at intimidation. Speaking to the Bugün television channel, one of the media outlets owned by Koza İpek Holding, Paylan challenged the government pressure over the media, saying, “We dissidents will not remain silent.”

He noted that no one is able to feel safe in such an environment, saying, “Any other [business] group might also find itself subject to such treatment,” adding, “Let's stop this oppression on Nov. 1 to establish a new democratic system.”

CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal criticized the appointment of the trustees, saying the judiciary is being used by the government as a tool to punish dissidents. Noting that the judiciary is not independent and that the operation is politically motivated, he told reporters in front of the İstanbul office of the Koza İpek media outlets that “this judiciary is being used as a stick.”

He also argued such a move is characteristic of authoritarian regimes, noting it is only in authoritarian regimes that citizens are able to receive only the information communicated by the government.

CHP parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Levent Gök meanwhile argued a shadow has been cast over the upcoming general election by the takeover of the dissident media group.

The government wants to design the election results by bringing dissident media outlets under control, Gök told reporters in front of the İstanbul office of the Koza İpek media outlets. He also accused the government of acting like the mafia, saying a media group has been placed under the control of the government. “Such a picture has no place in [a state governed by] the rule of law,” he added.

CHP deputy Barış Yarkadaş meanwhile said the decision is completely arbitrary and illegitimate. "This operation that was carried out without a court order is arbitrary, null and void and illegitimate," Yarkadaş tweeted late on Monday. "Those who made this decision as well as those who implemented it are committing a constitutional crime,” he added.

Published on Today's Zaman, 27 October 2015, Tuesday