An Ankara court approved a demand by the prosecutor’s office on Oct. 27 to seize administration of the Koza-İpek business group, upon suspicion that it is “financing terrorism,” as part of an investigation ongoing since Sept. 1. The court decision came despite an inspection report saying no irregularities were found in the company records. Protesting the move, Akın İpek, the founder and chairman of the group, said that if the courts found a penny of wrongdoing in its probe then he would donate the entire group to the government.
The court also appointed caretakers to the administrations of group’s companies. In theory these should be independent names, but in practice they are either members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) or affiliated with it. The group has companies varying from gold mining to the media, from finance to education.
The Koza-İpek group and Akın İpek himself used to have excellent relations with President Tayyip Erdoğan, back when the latter was prime minister and when relations between Erdoğan’s AK Parti and Fethullah Gülen, the Islamic ideologue living in the U.S., were also excellent. Gülen-sympathizing police officers, judges and prosecutors spearheaded roles in Erdoğan’s initiatives to clean the army, judiciary and universities from people who despise Erdoğan and his AK Parti rule. The investments of the Koza-İpek group, which supported Erdoğan’s government through media outlets, newspapers and TV stations, grew freely during that period.
Things started to change in 2012 when allegedly Gülenist prosecutors attempted to question National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan over covert contacts with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Erdoğan considered this a threat to his own power. Later, relations hit a low point when allegedly Gülenist prosecutors opened corruption cases against members of Erdoğan’s government, his party and even his family in two waves of investigations on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013.
Erdoğan subsequently accused Gülen and his followers of forming a “parallel state within the state” in order to overthrow the government. He also claims that because they were trying to stage a coup in this way, they should be regarded as terrorists, despite the lack of guns in the entire picture.
Akın İpek has never hidden that he is a follower of Gülen. That is why the prosecutors are accusing him and his companies of helping a terrorist organization, adding more fuel to the debate on the independence of the courts just four days before Turkey’s crucial election on Nov. 1.
But this case is not the only bad example in Turkey of lack of court independence and media freedom, since Koza İpek holds four media outlets (the Bugün and Millet newspapers and the Bugün and Kanaltürk TV stations).
It is also worth noting that other two publications close to Gülen had serious problems recently. Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper, resigned last month, saying the pressures on him did not allow him to fulfill his duties. Bülent Keneş, the editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, was taken into custody over a tweet he posted, on the basis of “insulting President Erdoğan.” When combined with the pressure and attacks on the Hürriyet newspaper and the Doğan Media Group, as well as the pressure that critical newspapers like Cumhuriyet have been facing since the June 7 elections, it would not be exaggerating to say the level of pressure on media not in line with the government is on the rise.
But again, this situation is not only about court independence and media freedom. It has gained an investment freedom dimension as well.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Oct. 27 that if no one raised a voice against the Koza-İpek case, the government could set new examples of seizures of companies and perhaps properties in the future.
Turgut Özal, Turkey’s eighth president, was the politician who introduced the “three principles of a liberal democracy” when he introduced liberal economy to the country in the 1980s, when Turkey was trying to return to democracy after the 1980 military coup. Many in Turkey were introduced to the concept of “freedom of faith, freedom of expression and freedom of investment” thanks to Özal. It is sad to see that we are now in a position of debating these freedoms 30 years later because of escalating political tension.
It is not clear what else Turkey will see if the AK Parti is unable to regain its parliamentary majority in the Nov. 1 election., as an AK Parti lawmaker Aydın Ünal vowed for ‘more’ in a televised interview yesterday.
Published on Hurriyet Daily News, 28 October 2015, Wednesday