December 13, 2014

Claim of journalists to be detained en masse draws harsh response

A claim of a soon-to-be-unveiled mass detention of journalists in Turkey as part of government efforts to muzzle the remaining free, independent and critical media outlets has prompted a huge outcry in Turkey.

Political parties in the opposition have slammed the government for targeting journalists, while press freedom advocacy groups have criticized the government for further crackdowns on the media, which has already been under heavy pressure for some time.

The claim of mass detentions of some 400 people, including 150 journalists, was first raised on Thursday afternoon by a Twitter user known by the pseudonym Fuat Avni. He has revealed many government-backed police operations to the public in the past, and though late at times, all the claims have turned out to be true.

Avni laid bare a three-stage plan orchestrated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in close coordination with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, Interior Minister Efkan Ala and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan. Simultaneous police raids to be conducted in several provinces in Turkey will see the detention of more police chiefs who conducted investigations into corruption and al-Qaeda cells in Turkey.

The government will also detain hundreds of critical journalists, including the editors-in-chief of the Zaman, Today's Zaman, Bugün and Taraf dailies.

The operation will be expanded in the second and third stages to include prominent businesspeople, media owners, civil society representatives and more journalists. Avni claimed that the government has already planned who will replace the editors of the Hürriyet and Sözcü dailies.

The raids were apparently originally planned to take place early on Friday morning, but they appear to have been postponed after Avni, who says he is among Erdoğan's inner circle, revealed the secret plans.

Critics of the government say the operation is an act of revenge for a major corruption and bribery scandal last year that incriminated many state officials and pro-government businessmen, including Erdoğan and members of his family.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu said the government is pursuing a witch hunt. “There has already been a coup on the rule of law [by this government],” he said, stressing that another heavy blow against the rule of law is underway with these possible raids on journalists. CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal said that if the operation occurs, the government will lose legitimacy. “This is a suspension of the principles of the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms. It is a declaration of martial law in Turkey,” he lamented.

CHP deputy and former ambassador Osman Korutürk said Turkish democracy already has shortcomings, but underlined that it is now getting worse. He said respect for the rule of law must be upheld in Turkey and that the judiciary must be independent and impartial. CHP Yalova deputy Muharrem İnce said Erdoğan has become a tyrannical, fascist dictator. “This tyrant, this fascist and dictator [Erdoğan] disregards the rule of law, and does not recognize justice, laws and regulations,” he said, adding that he is attacking the Hizmet movement today and tomorrow he could seize the assets of opposition political parties.

Masum Türker, the leader of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), underlined that even rumors of an impending operation against journalists shows that Turkey is drifting fast towards a fascist regime. “Turkey does not deserve such [a lack of] democracy,” Türker said.

Celal Adnan, the deputy chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said the operation aims to make people forget about the biggest act of thievery that has occurred in the republic's history. “Only this government could stage such an unlawful operation,” he underlined. Democratic Progress Party (DGP) leader İdris Bal warned officials who are involved in planning this unlawful detention of critics, saying they will be held accountable in a court of law when Turkey returns to normalcy.

Mustafa Kamalak, the chairman of the Felicity Party (SP), said detaining innocent people is an act of oppression. “Oppressors only prepare their own destruction with such acts,” he stated. Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy Altan Tan remarked that such raids indicate that the country is quickly drifting toward an authoritarian regime.

As only days are left until the anniversary of last year's bribery investigations -- which were publicly launched on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 -- the government is seen as desperate to stage something to make people forget about the corruption.

Lawyers with the İstanbul Bar Association have also slammed the government for orchestrating a sweeping raid to detain scores of journalists, claiming that the operations are aimed at covering up the embarrassing corruption scandal.

Lawyer Murat Akkoç, who spoke to reporters on behalf of the union, said they can no longer "tolerate" these illegal acts, calling on all lawyers to do their duty. He said it should not be forgotten that the operations will significantly tarnish the reputation of the country and that the raids will be another attempt to change the country's agenda.

Justice and Law Association Chairman and lawyer Süleyman Taşbaş underlined that the raids were planned out of revenge and that they have no legal basis whatsoever in the national criminal code or international law. “I cannot approve of such action [by the government] as a legal jurist,” he remarked.

Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the faith-based social movement called Hizmet and who has been targeted by Erdoğan in a hate-filled smear campaign since last year, has said the government plans are aimed at intimidating people in Turkey and creating an atmosphere of fear.

According to Gülen, these operations will backfire on the government and will further embolden those people who stand up against the oppression and tyranny of the government.

Asked about the claims, Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesperson Bülent Arınç said he found the allegations "serious and troubling," saying he hoped that there would be no incidents that violate the rule of law.

He acknowledged that Avni's claims have turned out to be true in the past, adding that he had spoken with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who said he had no knowledge about claims. Arınç said it is impossible for the government to know about the impending operation, its timing or the scope of the raids.

Show of support for Zaman

Hundreds of supporters thronged outside the headquarters of Feza Media Holding, the publisher of Zaman and Today's Zaman, on Thursday to protest the possible operation against journalists -- most of them from Zaman daily -- defying what they call the government's increasingly authoritarian practices to silence outspoken media.

Chanting slogans, the people protested the government's possible raid, with many vowing to stand vigil, despite the threat of the operation. Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, with other editors lined up before him, addressed the crowd in a short speech, promising them that no matter what happens, their newspaper will not keep silent.

"Even though everyone is silent, Zaman will not shut up," Dumanlı said amid a cheering crowd of Zaman supporters. He urged lawyers, prosecutors and bureaucrats to do what they are supposed to do, in terms of upholding the rule of law, and he called on government officials to avoid doing things that would be shameful for them in the future. Vowing that the media cannot be silenced no matter how hard the government cracks down on them, Dumanlı promised to stay strong in the face of pressure.

"These days will pass and history will record you as honorable men and women who came here to speak up on behalf of freedom and democracy," Dumanlı concluded.

On Friday, Dumanlı, Today's Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş, Aksiyon weekly Editor-in-Chief and Today's Zaman columnist Bülent Korucu, Cihan TV network General Manager Abdülhamit Bilici, Zaman daily Assistant Editor-in-Chief Mehmet Kamış, Today's Zaman columnist Mumtaz'er Türköne, Bugün daily Editor-in-Chief Erhan Başyurt and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca went to the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan, where hundreds of people have been waiting to express their support for the journalists since last night, to learn whether an operation will take place.

Giving details about their visit to the courthouse, Dumanlı said his lawyers have asked İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Hadi Salihoğlu whether there is any probe or case file related to them. According to Dumanlı, Salihoğlu told his lawyers that he has not been informed of any such investigation.

Dumanlı added that his lawyers had also asked the prosecutors why hundreds of police officers have been mobilized if there is no such probe under way. Dumanlı did not state the prosecutors' response to this question, but emphasized that whatever is being planned, the journalists do not have anything to fear, as they have never been involved in any kind of illegal act.

Karaca said he is standing in front of the courthouse to find out whether detention orders were issued by a prosecutor. Pointing to the tens of thousands of people standing vigil in cold and rainy weather at the courthouse, Karaca said Turks are standing up for their rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Başyurt said a mass arrest of journalists indicates the madness of the times. “If they are determined to make Turkey a subject of mockery in the world, they can go through with this,” he said, adding that many police operations in recent months have been based on made-up charges that lack solid evidence.

Türköne, who also joined in demonstration in front of the courthouse, said there are attempts to remove the line of defense against the system of corruption. He said: “We will not give up or be afraid of such attacks [on the media]. We will not sell our pens or the newspaper.” The writer said the press is the last line of defense in protecting democracy in the country.

Published on BGNNews, 12 December 2014, Friday