December 16, 2014

Thousands gather across Turkey to protest police raids against media

In solidarity with the journalists, TV producers and police officers who were detained on Sunday, people gathered in front of courthouses and media buildings across Turkey to protest the police raids on the Zaman daily and Samanyolu TV group, which have been dubbed an "unacceptable attack" against the freedom of the press.

Thousands gather across Turkey to protest police raids against media

Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, and Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of Samanyolu TV, were detained along with 29 others on Sunday. The suspects are accused variously of forming, leading or being a member of an armed terrorist organization and forgery and slander, according to a statement released by the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office. The detentions came days after a government-sponsored bill that made it possible to arrest suspects based on "reasonable suspicion" was signed into law.

Crowds of people protested the operations on Sunday in front of the Eskişehir courthouse on Monday, shouting, “The free media cannot be silenced,” ”Say stop to unlawfulness,” “Others can be silenced, but not ZAMAN,” “Zaman [Time in English] never stops” and “We do not fear the cruel.”

Some slogans -- “Dec. 17-25, thieves' week” and “We did not eat ill-gotten food” -- referred to the alleged corruption in the government. Audio clips leaked over the Internet following the graft probes on Dec. 17 and 25 last year implicated senior figures in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), including Cabinet ministers and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's son.

In an attempt to divert public attention from the corruption probes, Erdoğan has been waging a prolonged smear campaign against the Hizmet (Service) movement, a volunteer-based movement set up to spread education and interfaith dialogue. The movement is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has openly called on the government to clamp down on wrongdoers and clean politics of graft.

Speaking on behalf of the people gathered in front of the courthouse, lawyer Selamet Şen described the operations as an act of revenge by a government that tramples on the law. Referring to the “reasonable suspicion” law, Şen said that a cartoon's creator, director and even a cartoon character can be detained in today's Turkey.

Chanting slogans in solidarity with those who were detained and carrying Turkish flags, protestors in İzmir said on Monday that they will remain in front of courthouses as they believe that they are the only places where the truth can be revealed.

A woman in front of the Bayraklı Courthouse said that Dumanlı and Karaca are innocent and that justice will be done. People were seen reading the Qur'an and the Cevşen (a book of supplications) in front of the courthouse.

Some journalists, civil society organization members and local TV station employees gathered in front of a building belonging to Cihan Dağıtım A.Ş. -- a sister organization of the Zaman media group -- in Mersin province to show solidarity with Zaman and Samanyolu.

Mersin Journalists' Association chairman Ahmet Ünal said that Turkey had witnessed a historic breach of press freedom on Sunday, the like of which was not seen even during the periods of military coups. Chanting slogans such as “You are not alone,” “Solidarity with Zaman and Samanyolu” and “We support Zaman and Samanyolu” with the other protesters, Ünal said that the group would “never lose hope and that these days will pass.”

In the Turgutlu district of Manisa province, hundreds of people gathered in front of the courthouse. The protesters carried signs saying “A coup on the media,” “A disgrace of democracy” and “Free media cannot be silenced” and silently read prayers from the Qur'an. Local and national media also followed the protest in Turgutlu.

Members of the Şanlıurfa branch of the Union of Active Educators (Aktif Eğitim-Sen) came to their local courthouse on Monday morning to protest. Some Aktif Eğitim-Sen members carried signs saying “I denounce myself, I am a Hizmet member.” Police officers were seen fencing off the area around the courthouse. Aktif Eğitim-Sen Şanlıurfa branch head Osman Çakmak said that the detentions and raids contravene international agreements signed by Turkey which guarantee basic human rights and freedoms. Çakmak added that Turkey's democracy is threatened and that no one can predict what will happen tomorrow.

Published on Today's Zaman, 15 December 2014, Monday