December 22, 2014

HRW: Karaca’s arrest harms media freedom, Turkey’s reputation

International advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb has said the HRW is concerned about the recent arrest of Hidayet Karaca, the general manager of Samanyolu TV, adding that the arrest damages press freedom in Turkey as well as the country's reputation.

Karaca and Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, were detained on Dec. 14 in a police operation that targeted journalists, TV scriptwriters and former police officers. A number of international advocacy groups and press organizations in addition to political bodies such as the EU and the US have reacted strongly to the detentions, which are promoting the image of a Turkey increasingly drifting toward authoritarianism.

Dumanlı was released on Friday, while Karaca was arrested.

Issuing a statement on Dec. 19, Sinclair-Webb said, “Human Rights Watch is concerned at today's court decision for pretrial detention for the journalist and Samanyolu broadcasting group head Hidayet Karaca.”

“Pretrial detention should be the exception, and keeping journalists in custody on dubious terrorism charges without clear justification harms media freedom and is likely to further dent Turkey's international reputation,” she added.

An İstanbul court on Dec. 19 announced the release of Dumanlı, subject to probation and a ban from travelling outside the country pending the completion of a criminal investigation. The court had ordered Dumanlı and Karaca, along with 14 others, to be detained on suspicion of being leading members of an armed organization, depriving an individual of their liberty through force, threats or deception and slander.

Fifteen other people, including scriptwriters, were released by the prosecution after being initially detained in the Dec. 14 media crackdown by the government.

Australian support for Turkish journalists

Well-known Australian news anchor from SBS TV and Channel 10 George Donikian has said it is important not to remain silent in the face of injustice, as in the case of the Turkish government's raid on the media last week, adding that it is time to support fellow colleagues in Turkey.

In an interview with Today's Zaman on Friday, Donikian said: “There are many people who are saying it is a vendetta and many people who are saying it was done for other reasons than what they are saying. The truth is there is no journalist in the world, male or female, that does not have a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. In order to do what you need to do, in order to write what you see, you must be free. And therein lies the problem. You can't constantly have to look over your shoulder.”

Donikian said he appreciates Dumanlı and Karaca's professionalism and their ethics.

“We can't stand still, and we can't be quiet. The time is now. We have to support our fellow professionals to allow them to stand up, be proud, be professional, and tell the truth,” he said.

Speaking to Today's Zaman on Friday, Australian director and journalist Jeff McMullen also expressed his concern over the media raid and condemned the arrest of Karaca over a scenario featured on a Turkish series which was broadcast four years ago.

He said the raid on journalists harm Turkey's image in the global arena.

Barry Unsworth, an Australian politician who served as the New South Wales premier, said he is shocked by the recent media crackdown in Turkey as he once admired President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his pro-democracy stance.

Speaking to Today's Zaman, Unsworth said like many people in the world, he had appreciated Erdoğan's pro-freedom beliefs but was shocked by the recent crackdown that targeted Turkey's most prominent newspaper and television channel.

According to Unsworth, Turkey is becoming a despotic regime under Erdoğan. Expressing his disapproval over the violation of human rights, he said he decided not to travel to Turkey after the recent anti-democratic police operations.

Stating that he had met with Erdoğan nine years ago during the then-Turkish prime minister's visit to Australia, Unsworth said Erdoğan at the time made promises to turn Turkey into a democratic country free of military tutelage. He said he cannot understand the recent developments in Turkey and is concerned about its future.

He also criticized Erdoğan for targeting the Hizmet movement, inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Stating that it is clear how Hizmet works for humanity around the world with educational activities, Unsworth said Hizmet's activities should be explained all over the world.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 21 December 2014, Sunday