February 12, 2015

30, including journalist, detained for protesting media crackdown

A total of 30 people, including the Cihan news agency's Şanlıurfa representative and 17 police officers, were detained in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa on Thursday for participating in protests against the Dec. 14, 2014 İstanbul-based operation on journalists and policemen and another anti-police force operation on Jan. 5 in which dozens of policemen in the province were detained.

The police conducted raids of the houses of the 30 detainees early on Thursday. Among those detained were Cihan news agency Şanlıurfa representative Murat Şimşek, eight educational union activists and 17 police officers. The detainees were taken into custody early on Thursday morning and brought to the Şanlıurfa Police Station for testimony. Those detained by the Şanlıurfa police are accused of carrying illegal banners, calling for protests and violating the regulation on peaceful assembly.

The detainees were first brought to Balıklıgöl State Hospital for medical examination and were later taken to the Şanlıurfa Police Department for questioning.

The detention is part of an investigation launched by the Şanlıurfa Police Department into protesters who demonstrated outside of a courthouse in the province against the detention of 31 people -- including Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Samanyolu Broadcasting Group head Hidayet Karaca and several former police chiefs -- and another government-sponsored police operation in which 14 police officers were detained in Şanlıurfa on the charges of illegal wiretapping on Jan. 5. The crowd had held the demonstration to express their solidarity and support for the journalists detained on Dec. 14 and the police officers detained on Jan. 5.

Lawyer Harun Kaplama, who is representing some of the detainees, lashed out at the way the operation was conducted, saying the detainees should have been asked to come to the police station for testimony before their houses were raided by police officers early in the morning.

“The suspects have certain accommodations. Some of these people were called to the police stations beforehand while three of my clients were brought here [the police station] by police officers after raids of their homes. They [his clients] would have come to the station if they had been informed by the police without the need for raids. I don't think it was right to do this. However, our people have unfortunately gotten used to such investigations [in the last year].”

Noting that the questionings of his clients are ongoing, Kaplama said: “There are seven civilians and 23 police officers [detained] in the investigation. One of my clients, Mr. Mehmet Yetkin, is a construction contractor. My other client is Cihan news agency Şanlıurfa representative Murat Şimşek. The other client is the manager of a dormitory.”

Kaplama also said 30 people had been detained over accusations of influencing a fair trial, praising a crime or criminal and insulting the Turkish Republic and high-ranking state officials under articles 215, 301 and 288 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

One of the detainees, 55-year-old Sait Yetkin, told the press mockingly: “I did not know that waiting in front of the courthouse is a crime. I was not aware of this. I was taken into custody for the first time in my life. However, I feel honored to be detained for this reason. If similar unlawful incidents [similar to the detention of police officers on Jan. 5 and the Dec. 14 media crackdown] take place in the future, I am ready to go to the courthouse to support the suspects. I did not know that supporting innocent people was a crime. If supporting the police officers who were unjustly detained is a crime, I am ready to commit this crime anytime.”

The Dec. 14 operation is widely viewed as a government crackdown targeting mostly media outlets close to the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, which is inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

All 31 detained on Dec. 14 were charged with heading or being members of a terrorist organization. Karaca was later arrested on Dec. 19 upon a court order on suspicion of heading a terrorist group based on a TV series that was broadcast years ago on his television station. Three former police officers were also arrested while Dumanlı was released pending trial. Karaca had refused to defend himself before the court as he viewed the court as lacking impartiality and independence.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and pro-government circles accuse the Gülen movement of being behind a major corruption and bribery investigation that implicated many high-ranking state officials, including Erdoğan and four former ministers, on Dec. 17, 2013.

Published on Today's Zaman, 12 February 2015, Thursday