May 18, 2015

Reactions mount against prosecutor’s request to mute dissident media outlets

Representatives of various media organizations and political parties have criticized an Ankara prosecutor's controversial request to the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications that critical media outlets be barred from using the state's communications infrastructure, emphasizing that the government is attempting to create a monotype media without a critical voice.

In the latest move in an ongoing war conducted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) against the faith-based Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, Ankara Public Prosecutor Serdar Coşkun sent a document to the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (TÜRKSAT) Directorate General on April 27 asking it to prevent a state-owned satellite connection from being used by these media outlets. The Turkish media reported that the prosecutor's demand came as part of an investigation into claims about the “parallel structure,” and particularly targets media outlets inspired by the Gülen movement. The “parallel structure” is a term invented by Erdoğan after a massive corruption scandal to refer to members of the Gülen movement, which is inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The reason behind the controversial and unconstitutional move by the prosecutor, which comes shortly before June's general election, is allegedly the anti-government media outlets' "creating polarization in society and terrorizing people." If the prosecutor's request is approved, opposition parties will be deprived of the means to conduct their election campaigns for the June election because most of the media in Turkey, controlled by the AK Party government, provides little or no coverage on the election campaigns of opposition parties.

This latest attempt by a pro-government jurist to censor critical media outlets has sparked strong criticism and condemnations from various media organizations and representatives of political parties, who say they have serious concerns over the fate of Turkey's democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, saying that Turkey is being dragged towards a dictatorship under the AK Party government.

Contemporary Journalists Association (CGD) President Ahmet Abakay, speaking to Today's Zaman, said that the AK Party government aims at silencing and putting pressure on the opposition parties and the critical media outlets ahead of the general elections. “Establishing the ‘pool media' was not enough for them [the government]. Now, they have also put a ‘pool judiciary' in place. They want to [have] sole power [over the judiciary]. Unfortunately, such dictatorial practices that will go down in history might happen when the judiciary is loyal to the government in Turkey. Their sole goal is to put pressure on the opposition as the election is approaching.”

The term “pool media” refers to a pool of funds contributed to by pro-government businessmen in return for favors in the form of public tenders over a period of five years.

Agreeing with Abakay, President of the Press Council Pınar Türenç told Today's Zaman that she hopes the prosecutor's unlawful demand will never be put into effect, emphasizing that the implementation of such a demand would be the end of people's right to information and the freedom of the press in the country. Türenç also added that such bans on the media cannot exist in any democratic country, further saying that bans will not bring any benefit to any person or community.

Turkish Journalists Federation (TGF) Chairman Atilla Sertel said that freedom of expression and the press has consistently been violated by the government since the foundation of the Turkish Republic. “Freedom of the press and expression was also violated by the military government during the coup eras. However, the AK Party government has been trying to shape the media sector and punish those media outlets that publish critical reports and those journalists who speak against it. Such punishments still continue,” said Sertel, also expressing his concerns for the future by saying: “Tomorrow, they may punish some more people and the other day punish the others. In other words, they prevent those who are not pro-government from writing freely and put them behind bars. They have succeeded in intimidating the majority of people in Turkey via unlawful practices. Now, they are engaging in oppression.”

Democracy, rule of law suspended after Dec. 17-25 graft probes

Pointing to the major corruption and bribery investigations that became public on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, Media Ethics Council (MEK) President Halit Esendir said that democracy and rule of law have been suspended since the Dec. 17 and 25 graft probes, which implicated various high-ranking state officials, including then-Prime Minister Erdoğan and pro-government businessmen.

“We have reached the point at which words fail. It is as if almost all of the state institutions, including the HSYK [Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors], have been taken hostage [by the government]. There are no longer rights and law. Now, they will silence everyone,” Esendir said.

Esendir also said that the AK Party government is now trying to establish a Ba'athist regime, which supports the creation of single-party states and rejects political pluralism, in Turkey.

Speaking also with Today's Zaman, Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) President Uğur Güç said Turkey is being dragged towards dictatorship, saying that the AK Party government has been using the state-run media outlets -- the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) and Anadolu news agency -- to disseminate its political propaganda. “The ‘pool media' outlets have been also promoting the propaganda of the ruling party. They [the party] try to take their decreasing votes off the public agenda [by silencing the critical media and the opposition].”

Former Press Council President Orhan Birgit also evaluated the prosecutor's demand to silence critical media with Today's Zaman, saying that for a prosecutor to make such a request, he should not be living in Turkey, but instead a country such as North Korea. “There is no possibility of censorship. The Turkish Constitution is very clear. The Constitution orders the press not to be censored,” Birgit said to emphasize the unlawfulness of Coşkun's request.

Article 30 of the Constitution clearly states “a printing press or its annexes duly established as a publishing house under law may not be seized, confiscated, or barred from operation on the grounds of being an instrument of crime.”

The Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP), an umbrella organization comprising 95 media associations from all over Turkey, also released a written statement against the prosecutor's request on Monday, stating that such a practice cannot happen in a democratic country. “Those who come to power with the votes of the people now want to determine which information the public should have access to,” said GÖP's spokesperson Turgay Olcayto, adding that such behaviors do not comply with democracy at all.

MHP's Vural: prosecutor's request virtually a coup against election

Similarly, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman Oktay Vural asked: “What does this prosecutor take himself for? He cannot be a prosecutor at all. He cannot be a man of law at all. This [the request] is completely unreasonable. It is a state of insanity. The fact that a prosecutor sent such a request is a threat itself and it is a coup performed against the upcoming election and the will of the nation. What is the HSYK planning to do against this prosecutor?”

Vural further said that the prosecutor's request to silence the critical media is nothing more than a “virtual coup attempt.”

CHP deputy: AK Party seeking to stop decrease in votes by silencing opposition

Representatives of the opposition political parties also have slammed the prosecutor's request to censor the critical media.

Saying that the AK Party is aware that it has been losing more votes as the voice of the opposition strengthens, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy Gürbut Acar said that is why the AK Party has been resorting to unlawful practices and anti-democratic orders or requests ahead of the upcoming elections to “shut the voice of the opposition.”

Former Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay also criticized the prosecutor's demand, saying that this is an act that aims at intimidating all the opposition circles. Saying that it is out of the jurisdiction of a prosecutor to send such a direct request to a state institution to censor the media, he said, “However, someone wants to intimidate all the opposition circles with such news reports.”

In the document, Coşkun allegedly asked the ministry to prevent the statements of Gülen, whom he referred to as the leader of a terrorist organization, from reaching the public through the media with the use of state means. He said Gülen delivers his messages and instructions to his followers through media outlets inspired by him, while recalling that there are ongoing investigations in many provinces against individuals from the “parallel structure.”

No evidence has been brought forward and no court ruling exists in Turkey that proves the Hizmet movement is an “armed terrorist organization. ”

Gülen, the inspiration behind the Gülen movement, which promotes inter-religious dialogue and educational activities, has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999 and has not returned to the country since then. Before Erdoğan's relations with the movement soured after a corruption probe became public in 2013, he and many members of his government valued the movement's educational activities very highly. They visited the Gülen-inspired schools opened all across the world by Turkish entrepreneurs and praised their services and quality education.

Jurists: Prosecutor's request to silence critical media constitutional crime

Çoşkun's controversial request to the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications that critical media outlets be barred from using the state's communications infrastructure has drawn strong reactions from jurists who told Today's Zaman that the prosecutor has clearly violated the Constitution with his request.

Speaking with Today's Zaman, former public prosecutor Gültekin Avcı said that the prosecutor's request cannot be evaluated within the scope of law, adding that if such an incident ever happened in a European country, they would immediately dismiss the prosecutor from the profession for making such an unlawful and unreasonable request.

Avcı said the prosecutor's request is clearly against Article 137 of the Constitution, which stipulates that a public officer should object to an order coming from his/her superior if it is criminal in nature, and that he/she will be held accountable, too, in the event that he/she obeys it, and Article 6, which states that the exercise of sovereignty shall not be delegated by any means to any individual, group or class, further adding that no person or organization shall exercise any state authority that does not emanate from the Constitution.

Avcı also said that the prosecutor also completely disregarded Article 30 of the Constitution, emphasizing that the prosecutor's order shows that the current constitution has already been shelved and that a new constitution has already been put in place. “This means there is another constitution that this prosecutor obeys. The constitution of the Palace [referring Erdoğan's newly built presidential palace in Ankara]…The thing that they are calling ‘parallel structure' should be this. A parallel constitution…Both the prosecutor and those who constitute the source of the prosecutor's act are committing a crime and will be tried in the future,” Avcı said.

The president of the Law and Life Association, lawyer Mehmet Kasap, also said that preventing the media outlets from operating is a constitutional crime. Apart from the constitutional provisions mentioned by Avcı earlier, Kasap said that Çoşkun also violated Article 28 of the Constitution, which clearly states, “The press is free, and shall not be censored.”

Published on Today's Zaman, 18 May 2015, Monday