December 18, 2014

Journalism now a crime under Erdoğan dictatorship

Bülent Korucu

On Dec. 14, 2014, an incident unlike any we've seen previously in Turkey took place: The police raided the offices of Zaman -- the country's best-selling daily newspaper -- arresting the editor-in-chief, Ekrem Dumanlı. That same day, police also arrested Hidayet Karaca, the general manger of a leading Turkish television and radio broadcaster, the Samanyolu Media Group. The arrests, which were apparently triggered by accusations that both Dumanlı and Karaca were “seizing state sovereignty,” have shocked the world. As to what legal grounds for these arrests there really are, this remains a topic for widespread curiosity.

Both Dumanlı and Karaca were forced to wait for four days, along with their lawyers (and the public), to find out what the legal grounds for their pending arrests were. As the end of this four days of waiting approached, without a single question having been asked of them, both Dumanlı and Karaca found themselves victims of a kind of psychological torture. What was fast becoming clear was that in the dictatorship of the “New Turkey” under the guidance of leader President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, even ordinary journalistic activity can be impugned as being support for a coup.

Though it publishes news similar to that printed in newspapers like Hurriyet, Sabah, Vatan and others -- or broadcast on channels like CNN Turk and Haberturk -- Zaman was targeted for one article in particular and two columns in published with reference to an operation carried out against a terror organization. What this means is that Turkey's most influential newspaper's editor-in-chief was accused of committing a crime that goes against the constitutional order of the country. You have no doubt read details about the police operation that was carried out against the group referred to as “Taşhiyeciler”; news about what this group really was, about the orders that came down from the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) to move against this group, about the orders given by national police chief at the time (who is still a Justice and Development Party [AKP] deputy) and about the operation itself, carried out under the supervision of then-Istanbul Governor Muammer Güler. I won't get into the finer details here, but it is truly frightening that Turkey has become a country in which the editor-in-chief of a newspaper can be charged with coup-support because his or her newspaper carried news and analysis about a police operation.

And it is frightening to consider how Prosecutor Fuzuli Aydoğdu, who is clearly serving the dictatorship of Erdoğan, could without hesitation ask the questions he did of Ekrem Dumanlı. One of the questions he posed to Dumanlı is as follows: “Under your direction as editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper, it has been determined that the topic of preparatory schools was systematically a focus of your paper in the October 08-09-10-11-14, 2013 editions, and on Nov. 25, 2013. What is the actual goal of this systematic examination of the preparatory schools topic in your paper?”

Of course, the best answer to this line of questioning, which is clearly an attack on the freedom of the press, would have been “How does this concern you?” But instead, Ekrem Dumanlı kept his sense of calm and composure and wound up answering this question as best he could.

The prosecutor was either not satisfied with these answers, or was simply operating under orders from higher up, so he went ahead and asked the same question again, but in a different form: “In the Nov. 11, 2013 edition of Zaman, a piece of news titled ‘An Open Letter to the Prime Minister' was printed which was essentially a letter that had previously been addressed to the prime minister on the topic of preparatory schools; this time, the letter was addressed to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Do you have legal connections to any prep school in particular? Please clarify this. What is the real reason that this topic of prep schools is featured with such frequency in this newspaper, of which you are the editor-in-chief?”

Once again, the best possible answer to this question, which was formulated to interpret what was actually a column from Dumanlı as a letter, and which was also clearly an attempted intervention in press freedom, would have been, “How does this concern you?” But once again, Dumanlı maintained his sense of composure and supplied an answer as best he could.

Or what would you make of the following question?: “Do you know columnist Hüseyin Gülerce, who has written columns for Zaman in the past, or columnist Ahmet Şahin and Bugün writer Nuh Gönültaş? Do you follow the columnist called Hüseyin Gülerce? Are you aware of his statements? Do you follow the columns written by Nuh Gönültaş, or do you likewise follow his statements made on live television broadcasts?”

And another question: “What was the reason for the many days of news coverage by Zaman concerning former police force members Ömer Köse, Yurt Atayün and others, who were arrested on July 22, 2014 as a part of investigation 2014/41637? Do you have some sort of close relations with these suspects? Why did your newspaper carry longer pieces concerning these people, stories that were skewed with the aim of influencing the fair trial process? (Noted that the accusations of “skewing” and “aim to influence the fair trial process” were both rejected in strong terms by Dumanlı-B.K.).

It is not possible to call a government in which prosecutors can be made to ask a newspaper editor such questions either a democracy or a state of law.

Notably, the refusal to supply Dumanlı and Karaca's lawyers with information as to the charges against them was a serious violation of their right to defend themselves. Likewise, the fact that the questioning itself took place in the shadows cast by the guns of the anti-terrorism bureau was a huge violation of the right to a fair trial, and a trampling of very basic legal principles. But that is okay! I think we can assume from all this is that under Erdoğan's dictation, the important thing is simply reaching a conclusion.

In a speech given by Erdoğan on Dec. 15, 2014, he said without the slightest sense of compunction: “This situation is not one that concerns press freedoms. What is happening is that they are paying the price for a process that was started after complaints were made, and they will continue to pay this price...” In another speech made on the same day, Erdoğan said, “Those who threaten our national security will receive the answer they deserve.” So saying, Erdoğan was clearly indicating that a decision had already been rendered up front in this newly started process, and that the justice system was being used to see this decision through.

What now needs to be asked of Erdoğan -- who does not recognize either rights, the law or morality -- is this: “Are you the president, or are you a prosecutor, or are you perhaps a judge?” Who are you that you do not shy away from openly condemning innocent people against whom no legal or court decision has even been rendered yet?

No, no… You are neither a prosecutor nor a judge. You are just a perfect dictator. And you don't need judicial processes or procedures. Since you are a perfect dictator, don't try to deceive anyone. Just enjoy your dictatorship. Don't waste the public's time with fictitious courts and unlawful legal amendments. For instance, just gather us all and have us shot to death. If not so, establish gas rooms and annihilate us.

This befits a lot of other dictators like you. You will easily find the support of hundreds of intellectuals who will applaud your tyranny since you have tied yourself to them with their umbilical cords. You are a dictator, so act so in the most expected manner. Did you not learn anything from your mentor, Hitler? Just do it.

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