December 13, 2014

Media representatives slam claim of raid on 150 journalists

The allegation by a whistleblower, who says he is among President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's inner circle, that about 150 journalists affiliated with the Hizmet movement will be detained as part of a new wide-scale operation has drawn strong reactions from local and international media representatives and journalists.

“The allegations are intimidating even though they have not yet been established,” said Pınar Türenç, the president of the Press Council, to Today's Zaman. “The rumors that 150 journalists from leading newspapers like Zaman, Bugün and Taraf will be detained are extremely threatening, not only to the future of freedom of the press but they also pose a risk to the existence of democracy in Turkey.”

Türenç also said journalists in properly functioning democracies where the rule of law is in place do not face prison terms because of the reports they publish. “Yet, the normalizing of the detention of journalists is a clear indication of the unstable democratic system in the country. As the president of the Press Council, I cannot accept the detention of even one journalist. The reason behind the plans to arrest the 150 journalists is to create a chaotic atmosphere and strike fear in people's hearts.”

Calling on media representatives and journalists to remain calm, President Türenç noted that the latest developments in Turkey point to more restrictions instead of gradually progressing toward increased media freedom. “Get your hands off journalists and let them do their job in a free atmosphere,” Türenç called out to the government.

Media Ethics Council (MEK) Secretary-General Nejat Sezik is also among the media representatives who strongly criticized the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government for the alleged plans to detain journalists affiliated with the Hizmet movement.

“Any form of oppression on the media is just unacceptable. There are some provisions that the Constitution provides regarding media freedom and privilege. Applying pressure on the media by ignoring the Constitution is a clear indication of the rise of authoritarian tendencies in Turkey,” Sezik stated.

“These claims must immediately be renounced by the government. Such things only happen either in undeveloped Third World countries or dictatorships,” said Ahmet Abakay, the president of the Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD).

“Is there a coup in Turkey? Is there an emergency rule? Is there despotism? One can talk about the mass detention of journalists only under these circumstances. Obviously, what we have in Turkey is despotism. This despotism is explicitly attacking freedom of the press in Turkey,” Akabay said, criticizing the government.

Meanwhile, thousands of Twitter users have called Zaman journalists “heroes” and have been reacting to their possible detention with the hashtag #Yıldıramazsınız (You cannot deter us). This hashtag is second on the list of top-trending Turkish hashtags on Twitter, following # ZalimdenKorkmuyoruz (We are not afraid of the tyrant), which references President Erdoğan for being authoritarian in his relations with the media, the business world and towards anti-corruption protests.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, also commented on the operations rumors. “Keeping a close eye on #Turkey where rumors are flying of possible mass arrests, including journalists,” Mijatovic tweeted.

Posting tweets on his official account following the detention allegations, journalist Can Dündar, who was recently forced to leave his position at the Milliyet daily, claimed that the rule of law in Turkey has been suspended. “Those who live in prisons have more dignity than those who live in the palace of a despotic regime,” Dündar posted, in a clear reference to President Erdoğan's newly built presidential complex in Ankara.

Sharing a picture of people keeping vigil outside the Zaman building to protest against possible raids, Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said he was keeping a close eye on Turkey.

Meanwhile, Journalists from the Zaman media group, including Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, and Television Broadcasters' Association (TVYD) President and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca went to the İstanbul Courthouse on Friday to ask whether an investigation against them is under way.

Speaking to the press, Karaca said they would not bow to any form of oppression and democracy and that freedom would prevail in the end. “We are standing firm! We will continue on the right path. We have come to the Çağlayan courthouse to learn about the accusations and allegations against us,” Karaca said.

“They [the government] have divided society into certain blocs. The only reason behind this polarization is to absorb the opposition. Future generations will remember these days with shame, just as we remember the 1980 military coup, the Feb. 28 coup and [the bribery operations of] Dec. 17 and 25. Future generations will curse those who ruined this country,” Karaca noted.

Published on Today's Zaman, 12 December 2014, Friday