January 16, 2015

Detention of journalists increases concerns over press freedoms, says report

The December report of the Press for Freedom Project (PfF), released on Saturday, states that concerns about the state of press freedoms in Turkey increased in the last month of 2014, as operations targeting the Hizmet movement, a grassroots movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, extended to independent media outlets.

The report -- prepared by the Ankara-based Journalists' Association as part of the European Union's Civil Society Facility Turkey Program -- states that Zaman Editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Samanyolu Broadcasting Group head Hidayet Karaca, and dozens of journalists, scriptwriters and police officers were detained on Dec. 14.

Karaca faced charges of heading a terrorist group based on a TV series that was broadcast years ago on the Samanyolu TV channel. Karaca was later imprisoned pending trial.

The report also underlines a much-criticized amendment to the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) that was implemented immediately upon taking effect. The amendment allows security forces to target suspects on the grounds of “reasonable suspicion” rather than “strong suspicion.”

The reasonable suspicion law lowers the threshold for searches and reverses a reform from February 2014 that allowed courts to grant the police the power to search people and property only when there was “strong suspicion based on concrete evidence.”

The report also says, “Growing authoritarianism is resulting also in an ever-decreasing tolerance for criticism,” highlighting the judicial action taken against individuals accused of “insulting” state officials on social media. The report singles out Feyzi İşbaşaran, a former deputy for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), who was arrested on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Twitter.

The project aims to document violations of press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey in reports issued on a monthly basis. According to the PfF, “All those events have come as a blow to freedom of expression and press freedom, which are the prerogatives of democracy.”

The PfF December report details the acquittal of sociologist Pınar Selek in her fourth trial over a deadly explosion at İstanbul's Spice Bazaar in 1998 as well as the prosecution's decision to again appeal the ruling. The report also touches on a court ruling lifting a ban on a book by Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Published on Today's Zaman, 16 January 2015, Friday