October 17, 2015

Media freedoms still nonexistent in Turkey, despite Keneş’s release

Despite this week's release of Today's Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş from prison, the twin freedoms of speech and the press in Turkey still remains downtrodden as evidenced by the ongoing incarceration of journalists including Hidayet Karaca, Mehmet Baransu, Gültekin Avcı and dozens more.

Keneş, who was arrested on Saturday and detained at Metris Prison before being moved alongside terror suspects to Silivri Prison on Monday, was released on Wednesday after the court deliberated on his lawyers' petition for his release.

The outspoken journalist was initially placed in İstanbul's Metris Prison for his tweets allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Keneş was released pending trial, but is still barred him from traveling abroad and will have to register every Sunday with the local police station.

British Embassy: Media freedoms key part of functioning democracy

In a written statement to Today's Zaman on Wednesday, the British Embassy in Ankara pointed out that media freedoms are a key part of any functioning democracy.

“We consider freedom of media / expression a fundamental right and a key element for any functioning democracy and continue to take a close interest in press freedoms in Turkey,” wrote British Ambassador Richard Moore. “Freedom of expression should be respected and journalists should be allowed to report freely, in line with the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights,” the statement continued.

CPJ welcomes release, calls for case to be dropped

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a statement on Wednesday, welcoming Keneş's release and calling for the Turkish authorities to drop the case.

"Turkish leaders must learn to tolerate the public criticism that comes with the highest of political offices," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova.

“While we are relieved that Bülent Keneş is no longer in jail, we call on [the] authorities to drop the charges against him, restore his freedom of movement, and allow him to work without restriction” she added.

Keneş: I will not feel free until my colleagues are freed

Upon his release Keneş said in an interview with Bugün TV, in front of the prison, that even though he was released he did not feel free, because his colleagues Hidayet Karaca, Mehmet Baransu and Gültekin Avcı are still in prison, along with many other journalists.

“I was left devoid of my freedom for five days for [writing] messages [Tweets] that would not constitute a crime, nor be investigated, in any country with a minimum degree of democracy,” Keneş said.

“If it will be of even the slightest help, stop those who are trying to turn Turkey into an open air prison I'm willing to spend 500 days, let alone five, in prison.”

“To tell the truth, I don't feel free, because inside, Hidayet Karaca is still in prison after nearly 11 months for a [TV] serial scenario. He is still being kept in prison despite [a court] issuing his release,” Keneş added.

“Until Hidayet Karaca is free, I will not feel free,” he said. “[Journalist] Mehmet Baransu has been in jail for over six months now. Until Mehmet Baransu is free, I will not feel free.”

Journalist Karaca jailed after a TV show allegedly inspired a police operation

In the largest police operation against the media to date, the İstanbul headquarters of the Zaman daily and Samanyolu Broadcasting Corporation were raided on Dec. 14, 2014, as part of a crackdown on dissenting media by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

Karaca, the CEO of Samanyolu Broadcasting Corporation, was arrested after the raids, along with a total of 31 suspects; including Zaman daily's then-Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı.

Dumanlı was released on Dec. 19, while Karaca, whose indictment is yet to be prepared, is still in jail along with three others.

In a recently published book, detailing the near-11 months he has spent in prison, Karaca called out to those who had jailed him: “You are keeping my body here. My soul is with my friends, with millions of people who are praying worldwide.”

“Here, I am free. You cannot know the strength being innocent gives a person,” Karaca writes despite his lengthy incarceration. “Today they are putting people in jail, it is because the harshest penalty is prison. Believe me if there was capital punishment [in Turkey] we would have been hanged,” he writes in the book.

International reaction pours in after arrests

Karaca and Dumanlı's arrest last year caused a flurry of reactions to pour in from domestic and international journalists associations, such as the US-based Freedom House, Amnesty International (AI) and the CPJ.

Even the US State Department released a statement on the day of the raids, which was deemed unusual as it was a Sunday.

“Media freedom, due process and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish Constitution. As Turkey's friend and ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions do not violate these core values and Turkey's own democratic foundations,” it said.

Karaca is accused of heading a terrorist group, based on a TV serial broadcast years ago on the STV channel. The serial is alleged to have been the inspiration for a 2010 police raid against an al-Qaeda-linked terror group named “Tahşiyeciler.”

Turkey learned about the al-Qaeda-linked terror group “Tahşiyeciler” on Jan. 22, 2010 when police raided the homes and offices of 112 people across Turkey as part of a series of al-Qaeda sweeps. Police discovered two hand grenades, ammunition and maps that were allegedly part of an imminent plot to stage a terror attack in Turkey.

Baransu in jail since March for ‘exploiting' documents

In another incident, Mehmet Baransu, an investigative journalist for the Taraf daily, was arrested in March on charges of publishing classified documents from a 2004 National Security Council (MGK) meeting.

In the meeting, council members had discussed an action plan targeting the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, a civil society organization inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Baransu faces a prison term of 52 years, on charges of acquiring confidential documents crucial to state security, revealing information that is forbidden from being publicized, and of political and military espionage.

The MGK document dated Aug. 25, 2004 persuades the AK Party to implement a series of measures to curb the activities of the Gülen movement, and advises the government to adopt legal measures that would impose harsh penalties on Gülen-affiliated institutions.

Immediately after Baransu's report was published in the Taraf daily on Nov. 28, 2013, the Prime Ministry, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the MGK filed a joint criminal complaint against the daily and Baransu.

Baransu is known in Turkey for causing the start of the infamous Sledgehammer case, which, like the Ergenekon case, was an investigation against an attempted coup plan.

The investigation began after Baransu gave a number of CDs reported to contain coup plans belonging to military officials and their collaborators to a prosecutor in 2010. The Taraf daily published the coup plot on its front page on Jan. 20, 2010.

Journalist Avcı arrested over articles on Iranian spy ring

Bugün columnist Gültekin Avcı, a former public prosecutor who currently acts as Hidayet Karaca's lawyer, was arrested on Sept. 20, on charges of being part of a coup attempt and member of a terrorist organization based on articles he had written about the Iran-backed Tawhid-Salam spy ring.

Seven of Avcı's columns were submitted as evidence for his alleged crimes.

Tawhid-Salam is an Iran-backed terrorist organization, recognized by the Supreme Court of Appeals as a terrorist organization on three separate accounts in 2002, 2006 and 2014.

An investigation into the espionage ring lasted for three years until it was dropped by the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office in July 2014 in a move widely seen as an attempt to cover up a highly sensitive probe implicating senior officials in the AK Party and Hakan Fidan, the head of MİT.

The organization has been linked to a string of unsolved murders in Turkey during the 1990s.

Despite the fact that assassins of many well-known figures, such as journalist Uğur Mumcu and academics Ahmet Taner Kışlalı and Bahriye Üçok, have never been brought before the courts, the Tawhid-Salam investigation promised to shed light on some of Turkey's most high-profile murders.

TGDP: 26 journalists currently in jail in Turkey

According to the Platform for Solidarity with Arrested Journalists (TGDP) there are 26 journalists currently in jail in Turkey at the moment.

The TGDP archives the names of all the jailed journalists on its website. Seyithan Akyüz, Nuri Yeşil, Hamit Duman, Ferhat Çiftçi, Ali Konar, Cengiz Doğan and Ensar Tunca from the Azadiya Welat daily are among those currently jailed.

Ömer Gül, Şahabettin Demir, Faysal Tunç, Kamuran Sunbat and Cüneyt Hacıoğlu from the Dicle News Agency (DİHA) and Erdal Süsem from Eylül Magazine are among the others currently behind bars in Turkey, among many more from local and regional as well as national dailies and radio stations.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 October 2015, Saturday