December 19, 2014

People across country protest media oppression and arrests

People across the country have come together to protest the government's continuing crackdown on the free media and the arrest of Samanyolu TV General Manager Hidayet Karaca and three police chiefs.

Turkish people protest media arrests
People protest media arrests in front of Caglayan Courthouse

Zaman Editor-in-Chief Dumanlı and Karaca were detained on Sunday along with a number of other journalists, scriptwriters, producers and police officials in an operation largely viewed as a politically motivated crackdown on critical media. Some of the detainees have already been released following questioning.

A total of 15 NGOs came together in front of the courthouse in Bingöl, a city in eastern Turkey, to protest Sunday's operation on free media, in particular the Zaman daily, one of the country's best-selling dailies, and the Samonyolu TV network, both affiliated with US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who was accused by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of plotting a coup against his government and the Turkish state.

Speaking on behalf of the demonstrators, Metin Konuk of the Bingöl Yıldırım Educational Association called Sunday's raid an assault against media and the freedom of expression. Konuk called the five-day-long detention of Dumanlı and arrest of Karaca “a blow to free media.”

Similar protests also took place in front of a courthouse in Çanakkale. Coming together to rally against the crackdown, protesters demanded that the detained journalists be set free. Reading the Quran at the scene of the demonstration, protesters chanted slogans such as “Free media cannot be silenced” an “Attack on media, [equals] freedom for thieves.” People cheered when news arrived that Dumanlı was to be released but booed on the news of the arrest of Karaca and three police officers.

People gathered in Atatürk Park in Batman to show solidarity with the detained journalists and police officers on Friday. Protesters criticized the detention of journalists on claims they are terrorists or coup plotters. At the gathering, people read the Quran and Cevşen, a book of supplications and prayers.

Policemen in plainclothes prevented people from gathering in front of Hatay Courthouse to protest Sunday's detentions saying that the protesters would block the entrance to the courthouse. Unfurling a huge Turkish flag on the steps of the courthouse, people moved to another location after the warning. People chanted slogans saying, “Salute the police, our hearts are with you.”

On the sixth day of the crackdown residents of the province of Adana also protested in front of the Adana Courthouse, demanding the release of the accused while holding signs saying, “Write this as well, history,” “It is time for democracy,” “We will not say yes to each ‘Alo',” “Dec. 17-25 won't be forgotten,” and “We will not bow to oppression.”

Speaking on behalf of the crowd, Yasin Türkoğlu said the government has vowed to silence dissident voices. According to Türkoğlu, this process started last year with a government campaign to close down prep schools and continued with attempts to hide evidence of their robbery and burglary.

Malatya was another site of demonstrations with residents gathering in front of a courthouse. Malatya Umut Educational Volunteers Association (UMUT-DER) member Aynur Korkmaz said, on behalf of the crowd, that people had gathered here to express solidarity with Dumanlı, Karaca and the police officers who they believe are innocent and must be released soon. Korkmaz also said that they are on the side of a democratic country, and that freedoms and rights can only be preserved by refusing to bow to tyrants.

There were also protests in Yozgat province. Hasan Yılmaz, a protester, said human rights and freedoms had been violated by Sunday's detentions. Yılmaz said: “This is an assault on free media and basic rights and freedoms. Turkey is losing more blood with each passing day.”

Thousands gathered outside the Çağlayan Courthouse in İstanbul to show support for the detained journalists and police officials. While crowds celebrated the release of Dumanlı in the courtyard of the courthouse, they protested the arrest order for Karaca and the former police chiefs.

A court ordered the release of Dumanlı and seven others who were detained on Dec. 14. However, Karaca and former police chiefs Tufan Ergüder, Ertan Erçıktı and Mustafa Kılıçaslan will be jailed pending trial. They were arrested on charges of forming and leading an armed terrorist organization.

Dumanlı was released due to lack of evidence. His release was announced soon after he learned that his wife had given birth to a baby girl on Friday morning, and comes with the condition that he cannot leave the country.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 December 2014, Friday