November 12, 2015

Press bodies, journalists slam police raid on Zaman as an act of intimidation

Leading press organizations, rights groups and journalists in the country have strongly criticized the police raid on the premises of the Zaman Media Group in İstanbul on Wednesday evening, saying the raid was conducted unlawfully and aimed to intimidate journalists.

Police broke into the newsrooms of the Zaman and Today's Zaman dailies and the Aksiyon weekly magazine, part of the Zaman Media Group, in the Yenibosna neighborhood of İstanbul late on Wednesday, with helicopters hovering above and water cannon vehicles and riot police in front of the building.

The raid came amidst rumors that the media outlet was among the government's targets, after another critical media group, the İpek Media Group, was seized late last month. The police raid on the three critical media outlets was carried out over claims that the Özgür Bugün daily -- which was launched after trustees were appointed to the Bugün daily's administration in a controversial decision -- was being printed at a printing house belonging to the Zaman daily.

Although police were expected to search only the printing house of the daily based on a court decision to that effect, they returned to the building after an "anonymous call" and searched the newsrooms of Zaman, Today's Zaman and the Aksiyon weekly, journalists in the building said.

Releasing a statement on Thursday, Turkey's Press Council said the evening raid on the Zaman daily is aimed at intimidation and defiance, describing it as unacceptable.

The statement said the court's decision to only search the printing house of the daily was disregarded and the newsrooms of Zaman and Today's Zaman and the Aksiyon magazine were also searched in an unlawful manner and the journalists were prevented from performing their jobs.

"This is an obvious attempt of censorship," the Press Council's statement added.

Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) Chairman Ahmet Abakay said developments such as the police raid on the Zaman Media Group refute Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's claim to stand up for media freedom.

Davutoğlu said during a recent interview with CNN international that media freedom is a "personal red line" for him and if there's an attack on any intellectual or columnist or a journalist, he will defend them.

"I call on the prime minister to watch out and care for the red line he mentioned," said Abakay.

Human Rights Association (İHD) head Öztürk Tandoğan, who also described Wednesday's police raid as "an act of intimidation," told Today's Zaman the use of helicopters, water cannon vehicles and riot police in the raid shows that pressure is being imposed on the media group.

Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) head Lami Özgen said the police raids on newspaper buildings are all arbitrary and based on political motivations.

"This country no longer has laws and a Constitution. These raids are the result of personal ambitions and revengeful feelings," he said.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and then Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched an all-out war against the faith-based Gülen movement following the becoming public of a graft probe in late 2013 that implicated Erdoğan's inner circle. Erdoğan accuses the movement of masterminding the probe with an aim to topple his government while the movement strongly denies the accusation.

The Zaman and İpek media groups have been placed on the government's target list due to their ties with the Gülen movement.

Veteran journalist Taha Akyol, a columnist in the Hürriyet daily, also slammed the police raid on Zaman, saying it is a move showing the authoritarianism and violation of the law in the country.

Cumhuriyet daily columnist Ceyda Karan questioned why the police raid on Zaman was conducted with water cannon vehicles while the country has been shaken by terrorist attacks over the past months.

"While Turkey has so many problems and we experienced massacres in one month and many of us buried their loved ones, why are you raiding a newspaper building in this way?" she asked.

Turkey witnessed the bloodiest terrorist attack in its history in Ankara last month that claimed the lives of 102 people. The attack is the work of radical terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to initial reports.

Prominent journalist Cengiz Çandar, who is currently being investigated over charges of insulting the president in seven of his articles in the digital Radikal newspaper, said Turkey is going through a period when it is impossible to talk about freedom of the press. He said Davutoğlu's remark about media freedoms being a red line for him is just empty talk.

Well-known journalist and writer Oya Baydar said the unlawful and arbitrary pressure on the media today was unseen even during the era of the coup regimes in Turkey.

Professor Mehmet Altan described the police raid on Zaman as the steps of a black fascism with some political Islamist “sauce” on it.

He said the raid is part of a perception management operation that is aimed at covering up the corruption allegations about the government.

Published on Today's Zaman, 12 November 2015, Thursday