December 18, 2014

EP slams Turkey over breaches of freedom of expression

Protests staged by people across the world who disapprove of the Dec. 14 police operations against the free media in Turkey continue to take place in front of Turkish consulates and in famous squares in several world cities.

In a bid to support Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, and Hidayet Karaca, chairman of the Samanyolu TV group, who were detained on Sunday, the American-Turkish Council (ATC) organized a gathering on Thursday in the famous Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A group of people, including US nationals, attended the gathering to protest the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for their policies to suppress the free media, chanting slogans such as “Free media cannot be silenced,” “Free Dumanlı and Karaca,” and demanding the journalists be released.

Speaking on behalf of the gathering, former New Hampshire State Representative Lenette Peterson said Erdoğan's anti-democratic implementations are increasing authoritarianism in Turkey and harming the country's image.

Referring to Freedom House's decision to downgrade Turkey's press freedom status from “partly free” to “not free,” Peterson said that since the Gezi Park protests in 2013, the AK Party government has labeled anyone with criticisms towards the government an “enemy of the state.” Calling herself a friend of Turkey, Peterson said that the Hizmet movement is a civil society organization that aims to serve all human beings in the pursuit of God's pleasure and is inspired by the teachings of US-based Turkish scholar Islamic Fethullah Gülen. Peterson argued that this peaceful CSO has become the main target of the AK Party government.

ATC New England coordinator Eyüp Şener said they were protesting the violation of basic individual rights and freedoms in Turkey. On behalf of the Turkish-American community in Boston and New England, Şener said they condemn the assaults on Turkey's largest selling newspaper, Zaman, and one of most popular media groups, Samanyolu TV, in Turkey.

Hüseyin Kocaman, a Boston-based Turkish businessman, said claims that the Hizmet movement is a “terrorist organization” are ridiculous and unbelievable. Kocaman called these claims an AK Party government attempt to label the Hizmet movement.

Speaking to the Cihan news agency, Georgetown University Professor Ori Soltes said the individual rights and freedoms of the press might only be considered a threat to the state by corrupt and dictatorial regimes. Reiterating President Erdoğan's duty to protect democratic values in every circumstance, Soltes said Erdoğan will claim his place among the fascist, dictatorial and tyrannical leaders in history with the oppression of the Hizmet movement.

American-Turkish civil society organizations say detentions an assault on democracy

Institutions under the Turkish American Federation of the Midwest and the Niagara Foundation released press statements in protest of assaults on the free media in Turkey and organized a gathering in Chicago on Wednesday. Members of the American Turkish Friendship Association, Illinois Senator Pamela Althoff and Illinois Representative Jack Franks, sent a message on behalf of Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael J. Madigan and 40 members of the House of Representatives, expressing solidarity with the Turkish journalists. Calling the detentions of Turkish journalists an assault on Turkish democracy, the statement argued that freedom of expression and a free society must coexist and cannot stand alone.

Speaking at the gathering, Kerim Balcı, editor-in-chief of the Turkish Review, said: “We are not here to complain to foreign powers about our own country, rather to stake out a claim on democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and the European Union membership process.” Balcı said he will return to Turkey if there are any arrest warrants issued against him. People from Central Asian countries, Turkish citizens and American Turkish society members also attended the gathering.

The detentions were protested in the EU capital of Brussels Schuman Square on Thursday as well. People holding “Free Media Can Not Be Silenced” signs protested the violation of freedom of the press in Turkey. Today's Zaman and Zaman Brussels representative Selçuk Gültaşlı, Zaman Belgium Manager Mete Öztürk, Mehmet Köksal of the European Journalists Association, Today's Zaman columnist Ali Yurttagül and European journalists, among others, attended the protest. Protests were also held in London.

Published on Today's Zaman, 18 December 2014, Thursday