April 28, 2015

World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers: Karaca must be released

The secretary-general of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the world's largest journalistic body, has called on the Turkish authorities to release Samanyolu Broadcasting Group Chairman Hidayet Karaca, who is being held in pre-trial detention at Silivri Prison despite a court ordering his release on Saturday.

WAN-IFRA Secretary-General Larry Kilman, whose organization represents more than 18,000 publications globally, told Today's Zaman on Monday that Turkey upholds the rule of law and so the court order to release Karaca should be implemented as soon as possible. According to Kilman, journalism is not a crime in democratic countries and journalists must not be prisoned for doing their jobs. Kilman also said that there are many other journalists in Turkey who are jailed and asked the Turkish authorities to release them pending trial.

On Saturday the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance ordered the release of Karaca and 63 police officers arrested in operations targeting the police force starting on July 22 of last year. However, the suspects have still not been released after an İstanbul prosecutor on Sunday defied the court's decision and refused to release them.

The İstanbul 10th Penal Court of Peace, which was on duty on Saturday, claimed that the verdict of release made by the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance is unlawful because the court is not authorized to give pronouncements on the issue.

Meanwhile, some of Turkey's press unions and organizations have strongly criticized efforts by pro-government judicial members not release of Karaca and have called on the penal courts of peace to order his release. Press Council President Pınar Türenç told Today's Zaman on Monday that 135 days have now passed since Karaca voluntarily went to the İstanbul Police Department, where he was arrested after being detained, on Dec. 14 of last year. According to Türenç, it is unacceptable that a journalist has been arrested for his journalistic work. “Karaca should have been and must be released pending trial because journalists don't carry guns in their hands but their pens to enlighten the public,” Türenç added.

Türenç also posted a tweet on Saturday stating that the Press Council welcomed the ruling, which should have happened much earlier. "Justice has been served eventually, despite being late," Türenç said.

In the Dec. 14 crackdown of last year, 27 people, including journalists, police officers, scriptwriters and a graphic designer of a TV soap opera, Karaca and three former police chiefs were detained and later arrested on charges of leading a terrorist network, while other detainees, including Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, were later released pending trial.

Media Ethics Council (MEK) President Halit Esendir told Today's Zaman on Monday that the latest decision of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), taken in an extraordinary meeting on Monday, proves that the judiciary in Turkey is controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Esendir said that the government is worsening the situation for the judiciary by covering up one wrong action with another. “Not implementing the court decision is wrong but removing the judges who ruled for the release of Karaca and police officers is also wrong,” Esendir said.

According to the MEK president, Turkey's image is being damaged by wrong and unlawful actions by the judiciary that were not seen in Turkey even during the military coup regimes. Esendir noted that the upcoming Turkey report by the European Parliament will also mention these violations of human and constitutional rights and issue a strong warning to Turkey, but the ruling government will again blame this criticism on others. Esendir urged the government to stop intervening in the work of the judiciary, which will drag country into chaos.

Tercan Ali Baştürk, the secretary-general of Medialog Platform -- which operates under the umbrella of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) -- also told Today's Zaman that any objection to decision by a court should go through the correct legal channels. However, he said that his was not done by prosecutors because they did not implement the ruling of the İstanbul 32nd Court of First Instance on Saturday.

Baştürk also underlined that Medialog Platform was opposed to the arrest of Karaca from the beginning because no journalists should be put on trial for their views or publications. Baştürk further added that the number of the journalists who are in jail while they are being tried in European Union countries does not exceed 10 percent, while the figure is more than 80 percent in Turkey.

Underlining that the upcoming European Union progress report on Turkey will mention the unlawful implementations that limit freedoms, Baştürk said that Turkey's international image is being tarnished by the government. Interference by the executive in the work of the judiciary through the penal courts of peace should not be welcomed in a country that promised the European Union that it would guarantee freedom of expression, Baştürk said.

The penal courts of peace are also known as “project courts” because they were set up by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in June 2014 specifically to fight against the Gülen movement -- also known as the Hizmet movement -- inspired by the teachings of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The government accuses the movement of being behind the corruption investigations that became public on Dec. 17, 2013 and in which various government officials and pro-government businessmen are implicated.

RSF says Turkey’s refusal to release Karaca scandalous

Johann Bihr, the head of Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) Eastern Europe Desk, has also called for immediate release of Karaca.

Speaking to the Cihan news agency, Karaca said the RSF is closely monitoring the developments with regards to Turkish authorities’ refusal to release Karaca. Bihr said what happened over the weekend in Turkey how the judiciary is politicized in Turkey.

He added that the developments also revealed how the principle of judicial independence was harmed in Turkey, reminding Turkish authorities that failing to comply with court rulings is an open violation of the law.

RSF, world's leading press advocacy group, has recently ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries, citing an escalating crackdown on media freedom since the corruption scandal that blew into open in December 2013. The corruption charges targeted President Erdoğan and his inner circle.

Published on Today's Zaman, 28 April 2015, Tuesday