November 19, 2015

Trustees’ first order of business: Halting book publication at Kaynak

A panel of trustees who were appointed to Kaynak Holding, a group that owns the country's largest publishing house, in a government-backed move on Wednesday, have decided to halt publication and distribution of books by the company in their first official act, a development that has been described as a blow to freedom of expression and tantamount to forcing the company into bankruptcy.

Kaynak Holding, comprising 23 companies, owns the largest publishing house in Turkey, Kaynak Publishing House, and the NT Mağazaları nationwide bookstore chain along with 100 publishing brands and employs more than 8,000 people. A significant share of Kaynak Publishing House's publications is on interfaith and intercultural studies, and it is also the publisher of a popular series of exam preparation books. Kaynak Holding's bimonthly Hira Arabic magazine is published in Turkey, Egypt and Morocco and has a circulation of over 90,000. Kaynak's textbook publishing subsidiary Zambak earlier partnered with Cambridge University Press to market English textbooks abroad.

Yeni Asya daily Editor-in-Chief Kazım Güleçyüz said the decision of trustees to halt publication of books by Kaynak is a heavy blow to the country's "cultural life," noting that the move is an open attempt to make the company go bankrupt.

Güleçyüz said all fundamental rights and freedoms such as freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of enterprise and the sanctity of the home are threatened in Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and what is taking place at Kaynak Holding today is an "explicit and the latest example" of violations of these rights and freedoms.

"At a time when there is talk of advanced democracy in this country, such moves do not befit Turkey," he told Today's Zaman.

The decision to appoint trustees to Kaynak Holding was made by the İstanbul 10th Penal Court of Peace, following which trustees escorted by police officers went to the headquarters of the holding in the Bağcılar area of İstanbul.

Kaynak has little legal recourse to remedy the unlawful takeover because the penal courts of peace act as “closed circuit” courts. Appealing a judge's ruling can only be made to the same court and often to the same judge who issued the ruling. They were designed by the government to pursue its critics and opponents by orchestrating what many have said are sham trials in politically motivated cases.

Güleçyüz said the anti-democratic moves of the AK Party government have escalated since the Nov. 1 snap election when the party received 49.3 percent of the vote, adding that "a democratic brake mechanism" is needed to stop the government's unlawful and anti-democratic moves.

"There is a need to develop a common stance [against the government's politically motivated moves]. The EU should not remain an onlooker to these developments in Turkey. Just as Brussels took note of the rights violations in the country during the course of the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup, it should do the same thing now. Unfortunately, inner dynamics are weak," he said.

In a controversial move in April 2014, the AK Party government banned the publication of the Risale-i Nur collection, written by prominent Islamic scholar Bediüzzaman Said Nursi. In June of this year, the country's Constitutional Court annulled the law that declared a monopoly over the publication of the Risale-i Nur, yet ruled for the ban to remain in place for one more year. Yeni Asya Publications, which used to print Nursi's book, angered the government when it opposed the monopolization of the publication of the Islamic scholar's books.

Since publication has also been halted of Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen's books, which are read and appreciated around the world in many languages for their promotion of tolerance and intercultural and interreligious dialogue, it is a matter of concern whether the Kaynak Publishing House will be used for the printing of books on political Islam.

President of the Media Ethics Council (MEK) Halit Esendir also slammed the decision of the trustees appointed to Kaynak Holding to halt the publication and distribution of books by the company's publishing house, saying that it is a deliberate move to cause financial difficulties at the company.

Esendir said the appointment of trustees to the holding is illegal in the first place and that it runs contrary to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of enterprise.

The decision to appoint trustees to Kaynak Holding less than a month after another panel of trustees was appointed to İpek Koza Holding, owner of the İpek Media Group, which includes several TV channels, dailies and a radio station.

The AK Party government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched an all-out war against the Gülen movement, inspired by respected scholar Gülen, following the becoming public of a corruption probe in late 2013 in which then-Prime Minister Erdoğan's close circle was implicated. Erdoğan accuses the movement of masterminding the probe despite a denial from the movement. Since then, individuals and organizations that are thought to be linked with the Gülen movement have been the target of a witch hunt.

The İstanbul 10th Penal Court of Peace, which appointed trustees to Kaynak Holding, gave the authority to the trustees to fire any of the company's employees, leading to concerns among the company's more than 8,000 employees.

Pak Transportation Labor Union (Pak Taşıma İş) President Davut Suşehirli voiced his hope that the trustees of the holding will not threaten the jobs of the employees there.

"Since the trustees have taken over management of the holding, we expect them to increase profitability and improve working conditions of the employees. The failure of the holding's companies will from now on be attributed to the trustees. Our union is ready to what it can do in order to increase profitability in the companies," he said.

Each of the trustees will be paid a monthly salary of a TL 105,000 ($36,624) in line with a decision from the court, which also decided the trustees would receive TL 5,000 ($1,744) for each company due to the “heavy workload” and for the money to be met from the companies' budgets.

Int'l press organizations slam pressure on critical media in Turkey

The growing restrictions and censorship on critical media outlets and publishing houses in Turkey and ongoing violations of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the latest of which took place at Kaynak Holding, attracted widespread condemnation from the international press organizations.

PEN Turkey Vice President Halil İbrahim Özcan said the amount of pressure on media organizations and publishers is increasing every day, stressing that the public needs to be more aware of these restrictions and raise a louder voice against them.

"We just protest and condemn this situation. For years, the same kind of pressure was on everyone, and the same thing is happening today. Laws are for all of us. When those making laws and those practicing it act together, the amount of pressure increases. People's orders are followed instead of laws. … Laws have no validity now, but they will also be required by others tomorrow," said Özcan.

Frank Überall, head of the German Journalists Association (DJV), also condemned the oppression of critical media organizations and publishing houses in Turkey, saying that the government should stop filing ridiculous cases against them.

The head of the DJV, an association with nearly 35,000 members, harshly criticized President Erdoğan and the AK Party for carrying out a witch hunt against media groups and publishing houses that are critical of them.

Referring to an incident where journalists were accused of being terrorist members, Überall said: “Erdoğan's blood feud [against those who are critical of the government] continues after the AK Party's election victory. Turkey [the AK Party government] should stop filing ridiculous cases against journalists and publishers immediately.”

Überall added: “Today, journalists [in Turkey] are hunted like terrorists and they appear in court because they fulfill their obligation to cover pieces that are critical [of the government]. This is a violation of freedom of thought.”

Überall regarded the Turkish government's move to not grant accreditation to critical Turkish media outlets -- including the Zaman, Sözcü and Today's Zaman dailies -- to cover the recent G-20 summit of world leaders in Antalya as a crackdown on the media. “It's unacceptable for democratic leaders to smile in front of the cameras with Erdoğan while critical journalists in Turkey are followed, oppressed and intimidated.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 November 2015, Thursday