December 16, 2014

Peaceful protests against media crackdown continue across Turkey

Hundreds of thousands of people across various provinces of the country continued to voice their objection on Tuesday to a government-orchestrated operation that resulted in the detention of Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, stating that government attempts to silence free media will fail.

Crowds protest detention of journalists outside Istanbul Courthouse
Crowds protest detention of journalists outside Istanbul Courthouse

Dumanlı, STV network executive Hidayet Karaca, as well as a number of other journalists, columnists, scriptwriters and producers were arrested on Sunday in a large-scale media crackdown. Some of the detainees were later released following questioning.

The protesters generally met in front of courthouses in their provinces. Most carried a copy of the Zaman newspaper in their hands as they showed their support for the daily as well as freedom of the press.

In the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, the protesters, who were mostly members of the Pak Communications Workers' Union, gathered in front of the Şanlıurfa Courthouse and carried banners which read: “The black day for democracy” and “Free media cannot be silenced.” The protesters left the area after the union's president, Bilal Öztürk, made a press statement.

In Kilis, another southeastern province, protesters with banners in their hands chanted slogans against Sunday's operation and sought the release of the detained journalists.

The courtyard of the Gaziantep Courthouse in southeastern Turkey was also the venue of a peaceful protest on Tuesday. The protesters, who said the top executives of Zaman and Samanyolu were unjustly detained, asked for their release and then they peacefully left the area.

Hundreds of people also met in front of the new courthouse in the Black Sea province of Samsun to protest Sunday's police raids, which they said targeted free media.

Union of Active Educators (Aktif Eğitim-Sen) Samsun branch head Sefa Zor, who was among the protesters, provided a statement in which he said the country was moving away from democracy and witnessing new anti-democratic practices every passing day.

“At the point reached today, there are efforts being made by a fear empire to silence everyone who does not bow in front of this empire, and the media have taken its share of this. It is said that 2,000 journalists have lost their jobs over the past year. Freedom of expression in our country is at its lowest point,” Zor said.

A citizen named Ali Rıza Ülker said he came to the area in order to show his opposition to what happened in a democratic way.

“I believe that justice will be served and we will continue our struggle until that time,” he added.

In Çorum, a small province northeast of Ankara, protesters that included representatives from the local media met in front of the Çorum Courthouse where they described the police operation against journalists as a “coup.”

The editor-in-chief of the local Tek Yıldız newspaper in the province, Nadir Yücel, said Karaca is a close friend of his and he is certain that Karaca is innocent.

“As journalists, we underline that we are against a coup mentality that restricts the freedom of the press. We have not been silent and will continue this way until the very end,” he said.

Another local journalist, Güngör Atak, said Sunday's operation was not a coup against the media but the entire nation.

In the southern province of Antalya, hundreds of people who gathered in front of the Antalya Courthouse carried copies of Zaman, Bugün, Taraf and Sözcü newspapers, the only remaining media outlets that are critical of the government.

Police took tight security measures in the area and did not allow the protesters to enter the courtyard of the courthouse.

Carrying banners in support of freedom of the press written in English, Russian and Arabic, some protesters chanted slogans in favor of Zaman's Dumanlı, while others simply quietly read the Qur'an.

In the western province of İzmir, where protesters met in front of the İzmir Courthouse, Grand Unity Party (BBP) İzmir branch head İsmail Gider addressed thousands of demonstrators, saying attempts to silence free media in the country are unacceptable.

Around 2,000 people gathered in front of the Konya Courthouse to hold a peaceful protest on Tuesday during which they vowed not to remain silent in the wake of government pressure on the media.

The protests continued in other provinces as well, such as Kocaeli, Mersin, Kayseri, Isparta, Bursa, Kütahya, Afyonkarahisar and Adıyaman, throughout the day.

In the meantime, despite the cold weather, hundreds of people continued to stand vigil outside the headquarters of Feza Media Holding, which includes the Zaman daily building, the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan, the İstanbul Police Department on Vatan Street and Samanyolu TV on the Anatolian side of İstanbul, to protest Sunday's police operation.

A Zaman reader, Seher Yanar, who was among those standing in front of the Zaman building with her young daughter and husband, said she has been a Zaman reader for 12 years and sees the police operation as a coup against democracy, freedom and the paper.

“We will stand behind our paper until the very end,” she said.

The government crackdown on Zaman has prompted many people to subscribe to the daily. Since Sunday, Zaman has added 40,000 new readers to its subscribers, and street sales have also significantly increased. The daily average of Zaman street sales was around 13,000 before the operation and rose to 19,000 on Monday and to 25,000 on Tuesday in an apparent move to show support for the daily. Zaman's total circulation per day neared 1 million as of Tuesday.

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