September 21, 2015

Legal experts and politicians condemn arrest of Bugün columnist Avcı

The outcry against the detention and subsequent arrest of Bugün daily columnist Gültekin Avcı continues to grow, with Turkey’s legal experts and opposition parties slamming the latest Ankara-backed crackdown on journalists.

Daily Bugün columnist Gültekin Avcı, a former public prosecutor and current lawyer of Samanyolu Media Group CEO Hidayet Karaca, was detained in İzmir on Friday by Istanbul Counterterrorism Bureau officers.

Avcı was detained on the orders of Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor-on-duty İrfan Fidan as part of the Tawhid-Salam investigation, and seven of his columns were submitted as evidence for his alleged crimes. Tawhid-Salam is an alleged Iran-backed terrorist organization which was investigated for three years by Turkish police and allegedly involves high ranking politicians. The charges against him include claims that he relayed secret messages to members of a terrorist organization and also that he molded public opinion by way of the press.

Avcı’s 48-hour detainment was controversially extended to a third day, and after appearing in front of the prosecutor at Istanbul's Aksaray Police Station, he was sent to the local magistrate to be put under arrest on terrorism charges.

Opposition politicians warn the arrest will tarnish Turkey’s image

This latest government crackdown on free press has sparked much outcry from Turkey’s opposition politicians, who protest that any suppression of the media is unacceptable – that such actions continue to stain the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) legacy and will only tarnish Turkey’s image in the world.

“It is completely unacceptable for people to be investigated for their op-ed columns,” says Republican People’s Party (CHP) Parliamentary Group Deputy Chair Levent Gök. “Not only is this an embarrassment for Turkey, but it’s something that compromises our standing in the world. It’s not possible to explain to the world this suppression by the government, its reasons for launching such an investigation. It’s a shameful, embarrassing scene, and it shows us the mental collapse the government is undergoing. The government is trying to ruthlessly silence opponents.”

“The cost for Turkey will be very high,” he added. “With these operations they’re trying to destroy Turkey’s rules and institutions. If the government doesn’t abandon this heedless course, we will become a country completely disregarded by the outside world.”

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chairman Alim Işık said he wasn’t even surprised, given the AK Party’s track record of targeting its opponents with such operations. “These kinds of operations simply tarnish Turkey’s reputation,” he said. “For people to be subject to such operations in this day and age simply for their opinions is unacceptable. They know nothing will come of it, but they do it anyway. It is an attempt to intimidate the media and the public right before the upcoming election.”

“This is unacceptable both in terms of press freedom and due process,” said pro-Kurdish, leftwing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Spokesman Ayhan Bilgen. “The right to testify in one’s defense in an essential part of the law. A country where columnists are singled out and punished is a serious cause for concern.”

Legal experts say arrest is against both law and ethics

“Everyone is a potential criminal in Turkey,” said former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk. “Anyone can come across such a situation when they wake up one day. However, in democracies with the rule of law, evidence is needed for someone to be put under arrest. Otherwise you could detain anyone and make them into a potential suspect. The allegation against Gültekin Avcı is such a case.”

Former president of the Turkish Bar Association Vedat Ahsen Coşar explained that Turkey is witnessing events that would never happen in democracies with the rule of law.

“I am very saddened by the events since Gültekin Avcı was detained,” he said. “He is a colleague of mine and a writer. He has an opposition stance, but that’s normal in democracies. Suspects have rights under the law.” Coşar added that the judge who put Avcı under arrest, who is known to have bad blood with the columnist and former prosecutor, should excuse himself from the case.

Former State Security Court prosecutor Mete Göktürk agreed, saying if there were bad blood between the judge and the defendant, it would be sufficient cause for cancelling the prosecution altogether. “However this is clearly just an attack against press freedom,” he lamented. “One cannot be a member of a terrorist organization by way of the press. We see the same thing whenever they come across a situation they don’t like. It is an attack entirely motivated by politics.

Published on BGNNews, 21 September 2015, Monday