August 27, 2015

Erdoğan confirms Fuat Avni’s claim of massive crackdown on critical media

In a development that came as confirmation of the claims of Turkish whistleblower Fuat Avni, who on Tuesday revealed plans by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to launch a massive crackdown on critical media outlets in the country ahead of a snap vote slated for November, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday hinted at the possibility of closing down some media organs in the country on the grounds that they support terrorism.

Fuat Avni, who has a long and credible track record of predicting political developments, claimed in a series of tweets on Tuesday that President Erdoğan gave the order for a massive crackdown on critical media outlets just ahead of the parliamentary election in November.

Turkey will have a snap vote on Nov. 1 due to the political parties' failure to establish a coalition government following the June 7 general election.

The whistleblower said on his Twitter feed, which has more than a million followers, that President Erdoğan is disturbed by the footage of relatives of slain security force members expressing outrage against the government in funerals. He said Erdoğan had believed his "flawless ruse" would not be noticed.

Turkey has been witnessing an escalation of violence over the past weeks particularly in the country's Southeast where many soldiers and police officers have fallen victims to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorism.

President Erdoğan, speaking at one of his regular meetings with muhtars (local headmen) at his presidential palace in Ankara on Wednesday, complained that some circles were being tolerant to the activities of the terrorist PKK in Turkey, adding that they would face severe sanctions if they were in a European country and showing the same attitude toward a terrorist organization operating there.

"If it is a media organization [giving this treatment], they would be closed down; if it is a civil society organization, their activities would be immediately halted; if it is a writer, they would find themselves first in court and then in jail. Turkey is a country where freedoms are really broad with this respect," he said.

In his tweets, Fuat Avni wrote that Erdoğan had demanded that all media organizations except the state-run Anadolu news agency and public broadcaster the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) be banned from covering the funerals of the slain soldiers or police officers. But the outburst of Lt. Col. Mehmet Alkan at the funeral of his brother, who was a captain, last Sunday showed that attempts to censor such videos are futile, the whistleblower noted.

"As Turkey goes to the polls, these protests must not spread," the whistleblower quoted Erdoğan as ordering his advisers. "Erdoğan ordered the critical media to be silenced," Fuat Avni tweeted.

Fuat Avni claimed officials had been holding meetings for days in the presidential palace on ways to crack down on the media, adding that they decided to seize critical media at all cost. He said the plan was presented to Erdoğan, who gave the green light.

Fuat Avni also stated that the seizure of critical media will be implemented step by step. The first target is media outlets linked to the faith-based Gülen or Hizmet movement, against which Erdoğan launched a battle in late 2013 following the eruption of a corruption scandal in which then Prime Minister Erdoğan's inner circle was implicated. The next target will be İpek Media Holding, which owns the Bugün and Millet newspapers and the Bugün and Kanaltürk TV channels.

Outspoken newspapers Sözcü and Taraf, which do not avoid criticizing Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), as well as media outlets from the Doğan Media Group are also on the list. He said the İstanbul Courthouse will deal with Sözcü, while the Ankara Courthouse will handle the İpek Media Group and Samanyolu TV channel. Tax inspectors have been tasked to raid the Taraf daily, while inspectors from the financial crimes unit will storm the Doğan Media Group.

The move is being undertaken by Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Harun Kodalak and İstanbul prosecutor Orhan Kapıcı. Avni said Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar, who published photos and footage of Syria-bound trucks carrying arms, will be charged with treason as part of the campaign to silence Cumhuriyet.

Dündar is already facing a life sentence, an aggravated life sentence and an additional 42-year term of imprisonment for publishing video footage of Syria-bound trucks as a result of an investigation that was launched upon a criminal complaint from President Erdoğan in June.

Fuat Avni said the decision by the palace also includes raids against noted social media users. "They want to imprison everyone who criticizes them before the election," the whistleblower said.

On Monday, Taraf claimed the leadership of the AK Party, Erdoğan's former party, is divided over whether or not to move forward with the plan to crack down on critical media. AK Party Chairman Ahmet Davutoğlu and his supporters in the party are opposed to the crackdown on the media, fearing that such an action will actually harm the party more. However, Erdoğan and his advisers in the presidential palace are pressing for the crackdown to muzzle the free and independent press before the election, according to Taraf's report.

Taraf said those to be detained in the government-orchestrated plot are certain journalists from media outlets that are critical of the government, mainly in the Doğan Media Group and media outlets inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The list also includes politicians and businessmen affiliated with opposition parties.

Erdoğan launched the battle against Gülen and the movement he inspired claiming that the movement masterminded the corruption probe in order to topple Erdoğan's government. Yet, the Gülen movement strongly denies Erdoğan's accusations.

‘Operation on critical media found not surprising'

Fuat Avni's claims have alarmed intellectual circles and media circles in the country that are already under growing pressure and censorship from Erdoğan and the AK Party government.

Press Council President Pınar Türenç said there is no room for operations on critical media outlets like the one Fuat Avni mentioned in his tweets in truly democratic countries, while voicing her hope that such an operation never takes place.

Yet, Türenç acknowledged that such an operation is not unlikely and would not be surprising because the Nov. 1 election will be of critical importance for Erdoğan and the AK Party.

Erdoğan hopes the AK Party to emerge as the single-party government out of the Nov. 1 election because the party failed to win the minimum number of 276 seats to continue its single-party rule for another term in the June 7 general elections.

There are claims that the AK Party and Erdoğan are against a coalition government because they fear the reopening of corruption files against them.

In December of last year, Fuat Avni had written about preparations for a government-backed operation against critical media outlets, which came true. Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group top executive Hidayet Karaca, along with dozens of others, were detained in an operation on Dec. 14. While Dumanlı was released several days later, Karaca is still jailed, while an indictment has still not been prepared against him.

Professor Sedat Laçiner, an expert on international relations and security issues, told the Cihan news agency on Wednesday that all the decisions in Turkey are made by the president and an operation could be made against anyone in the country upon Erdoğan's orders and such a development would surprise nobody.

Laçiner said he was actually expecting an operation on critical media ahead of the June 7 general elections, so he is not surprised at the possibility of such an operation happening ahead of the Nov. 1 election.

Opposition slams Erdoğan's alleged plans on critical media

Commenting on Fuat Avni's claims, Republican People's Party (CHP) Secretary-General Gürsel Tekin said it is very clear that the AK Party and Erdoğan want to silence critical media by making their working circumstances more difficult and imposing accreditation bans on them.

He said such an operation, as claimed by Fuat Avni, would not remain limited to only anti-government media outlets, but it would also be an attack aimed to silence the voices of the opposition parties.

"If they want to have peace, they could also close down the CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] and the People's Democratic Party [HDP]," quipped Tekin, adding that the government and Erdoğan should know their place and should not resort to such "reckless" moves because Turkey is not their own property.

MHP deputy Seyfettin Yılmaz accused the AK Party and Erdoğan of trying to create a system in which the judiciary, the civil society and the media act in full compliance with them.

He said they managed to take control of the judiciary, the civil society and the media to a great extent while they are now trying to silence the few media outlets that are critical of them.

"We are going to a critical election on Nov. 1. Their [the AK Party and Erdoğan] greatest dream is to have a media that praise all their actions and deem them right. That's why they are making efforts to eliminate the critical media groups that are able to tell the truth and do their job independently," Yılmaz told Today's Zaman.

The growing sanctions faced by independent journalists in Turkey and the tightening government grip on the free media have made their way into the reports of international media watchdogs, which have criticized Turkey's current level of press freedom.

Freedom House's 2015 report referred to Turkey as a country where the press is "not free." According to the report, Turkey performed worse in this area last year than at any time in the past 10 years. It stressed that many journalists were targeted, threatened and arrested. In addition, Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries in its latest press freedom index.

HDP deputy Ertuğrul Kürkçü said the Turkish people as well as the modern world would express outrage against such an operation to silence the critical media, which would mean a violation of the international agreements signed by Turkey.

"The pro-coup mentality has always dreamed of silencing the media that is critical of it, but the reaction of the modern world and the magnitude of the public reaction will deter them. They know it is not easy to silence the media," Kürkçü told Today's Zaman.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 August 2015, Wednesday