November 13, 2015

Editor-in-Chief Yılmaz condemns raid on Zaman, calls publication of Özgür Düşünce legitimate

Mehmet Yılmaz, former publishing coordinator of the Bugün daily and current editor-in-chief of Özgür Düşünce – the altered name of the Özgür Bugün daily – condemned a police raid on Zaman headquarters during a TV program on Thursday, saying that the necessary legal arrangements for the new daily were made on Nov. 2.

Authorities of the Özgür Bugün daily have changed its name to Özgür Düşünce as a result of the escalating oppression over free media.

In a government-backed move, police raided the headquarters of several media outlets early on Oct. 28, taking over the administration of a number of Koza İpek Holding companies, which include critical media outlets belonging to the İpek Media Group. Following the raid, trustees took over management of the Bugün and Millet dailies, as well as the stations Bugün TV and Kanaltürk. On Oct. 30, the Bugün and Millet dailies published their first editions under management of the new trustees, having been turned into mouthpieces of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In reaction to the new pro-government stance adopted by the confiscated dailies, the fired editors of the Bugün daily started their own alternative edition, attracting great interest and support from readers.

Late on Nov. 11, Turkey's best-selling newspaper Zaman daily was raided by police, with dozens in riot gear and water cannon vehicles gathered outside the newspaper's headquarters in İstanbul's Yenibosna neighborhood. Police officers arrived with a court order to collect three copies of the Özgür Bugün daily, over claims that a Zaman press was printing the daily.

On a Can Erzincan TV program, Yılmaz stated: “Nothing is done illegally—publication of the [Özgür Bugün] daily is done on entirely legal grounds. Anyone interested may obtain the relevant documents from the press bureau of the [İstanbul] Chief Public Prosecutor's Office.” Emphasizing that nobody has the right to restrict journalism carried out within the limits of the law, Yılmaz added: “Even if they are uncomfortable with our using the word ‘Bugün' in our name, we have taken then necessary legal actions to use it. The trustee could have filed a complaint regarding the trademark registration process, instead of carrying out a raid [on Zaman headquarters] through prosecutors and a penal court of peace.”

Speaking to Today's Zaman, Ekrem Demiröz, head of the Bursa Bar Association, said the aim of the police raid on Zaman's headquarters was to silence critical media. “An AK Party deputy named a few [critical] dailies and said ‘We will call them to account.' These are unlawful practices that serve a one-man regime, a dictatorship,” Demiröz said.

The head of the Bitlis Bar Association, Enis Gül, and Erzurum Bar Association Committee Chairman Naci Turan spoke to the Cihan news agency on Thursday, criticizing the raid on Zaman.

“It's not legal to search the newsroom of the Zaman daily using the claim that Özgür Bugün is printed there. Intensifying the situation, they arrived with water cannons, making people [in and around the daily headquarters] nervous … I believe that in the near future, the judiciary will declare just how wrongful these practices are. We all need legal order [in our society],” Gül said.

Turan also said: “These practices are intended to terrorize and intimidate society. A country can't progress without a free media. Political suppression of the press paves the way for the destruction of the government.”

Hürriyet daily columnist Taha Akyol spoke to Today's Zaman, referring to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu latest comments on press freedom. “Unfortunately, the Judiciary has been involved in unlawful practices recently. I think the prime minister is sincere in his words regarding media. However, I also think that his words haven't yet been put into action,” Akyol said.

"Freedom of the press is our red line," Davutoğlu told CNN International earlier this week.

Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) Chairman Ahmet Abakay told Today's Zaman: “The government has again begun to speak frequently on the topic of democracy. It's not convincing at all. What people experience is just the opposite. Speaking about democracy on a TV program doesn't make one a democrat. I call on the prime minister to act in accordance with the red line he speaks of and to fix the working conditions of journalists.”

Kani Beko, the head of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK), regarded the raid on Zaman headquarters as a constitutional crime. Speaking to Today's Zaman, Beko said: “Those involved in this constitutional crime should not forget that one day they will be brought to justice to account for their actions. If the press is not free, Turkey is not free.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 13 November 2015, Friday