December 16, 2014

Heading for a repressive regime at full speed

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Last Friday night I rang one after the other the editors-in-chief of the Zaman, Today's Zaman and Bugün newspapers -- Ekrem Dumanlı, Bülent Keneş and Erhan Başyurt, respectively. Their names were cited by Fuat Avni, a Twitter phenomenon, as journalists who would be taken into custody.

They all took Fuat Avni's message seriously and saw a terrible media clampdown like this as being possible. I said to them that I hoped these “rumors” would turn out not to be true but in case such a terrible thing did happen, they should know they have the support of their colleagues, including me.

Later on Fuat Avni tweeted another message, saying that after he revealed the government's original plan to take 150 journalists from Gülen-affiliated newspapers into custody, the original plan was altered and the list was narrowed. He cited Ekrem Dumanlı's name and some others as still being on the list and there was a police raid on Zaman and Samanyolu TV on Sunday; almost 30 journalists were taken into custody.

I will not bother you with lengthy explanations about the legal pretext of this operation. They say in 2009 "Gülenist police" took some al-Qaeda-affiliated suspects into custody after planting forged evidence in their homes and these journalists and some TV producers supported this operation by writing columns and shooting TV shows to prepare the psychological ground for this operation.

Well, I do not know the details of the said police operation; if there were violations of the rights of the suspects, these violations should definitely be investigated. However, when it comes to the arrests of these journalists in the present day, I believe it is just a terrible show of power by the government; it is just an attempt to intimidate every single journalist in this country.

Prosecutors and the police did not even bother to hide their intentions. Imagine this: Over the weekend, Dumanlı visited the prosecutor's office in İstanbul and asked if there was any investigation about him under way. The chief prosecutor said there was no such investigation. He even gave him a written statement saying there was no prosecution in progress against Dumanlı and certain other journalists who applied to the prosecutor. And on Sunday they sent police officers to the Zaman daily to take Dumanlı into custody. It is quite obvious that they just wanted to humiliate him and the others who came to the prosecutor's office with him.

Some say this operation was conducted to overshadow the anniversary of the week of Dec. 17-25, which marks the beginning of a huge corruption investigation against the government. I believe this unbecoming show of power has much bigger ambitions than merely overshadowing the corruption investigations. This government just wants to silence all critical media outlets. It has been trying to achieve this goal for a very long time. Thousands and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs because this government pressured their newspapers and TV stations. Some media bosses were forced to sell their newspapers to “investors” who are very close to the government. It tries to tame critical media outlets with “tax penalties”; the outlets' bosses cannot get any tenders from the government; their newspapers cannot get advertisements. This government is trying to use every imaginable tool of repression to silence the free media. Taking journalists into custody is yet another step in this direction.

Turkey is passing critical points one after the other and heading for a repressive regime at full speed.

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 December 2014, Tuesday