September 1, 2015

If free media is silenced, the entire country will be silenced

Bülent Keneş

Turkey has found itself right in the middle of a nightmare with the escalation of terrorist attacks, oddly enough in the wake of the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) defeat in the June 7 election, and raids and crackdowns on the already vulnerable free media and dissident groups that have survived the despotic pressures.

Every single day, we see several schools, nurseries or companies arbitrarily and unlawfully being raided by the police. Innocent people are taken into custody with trumped-up charges. As such, Turkey has turned into a fully qualified despotic regime. This scandal can no longer be seen as an image or perception problem. It is the reality.

In this country, everything including the Constitution, the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms has been suspended. The situation is so grave that no one in Turkey, be they ordinary citizens or foreigners, can enjoy security of life, property or fundamental rights and freedoms. The partisan judiciary, police, bureaucracy and media outlets, all consolidated by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his cronies in his quest for one-man rule with despotic ambitions, do not leave anyone with even the minimal security of the law. Crushed under the pressures and tyranny of Erdoğan's regime, Turkey is giving the impression of being a fifth-class ordinary Middle Eastern dictatorship. In this setting, the country is heading toward the most critical election in its history.

What government whistleblower Fuat Avni (@fuatavni_f) had prophesied several days ago proved to be true and we have found ourselves in the middle of a disaster. The incredulous scenario, in which Fuat Avni argued that all dissident media outlets and leading businessmen who still refuse to swear allegiance to Erdoğan will be silenced through unlawful and arbitrary raids and their assets will be confiscated, is unfortunately taking place. Large-scale police raids have already been conducted on the companies, newspapers and TV channels of the İpek Media Group, which includes several important free media outlets that have survived the ruthless looting, plundering and destruction by Erdoğan's despotic regime.

Erdoğan's despotic regime cannot tolerate any dissident voice or media outlet other than the partisan, black propagandist media outlets that feed on the illegitimate lucre system created over the years. Apparently, this regime is now determined to silence and intimidate the few surviving free media outlets before the election is held in two months. The media outlets that refuse to be intimidated by this regime's pressures and threats face the risk of being confiscated via arbitrary and nonsensical justifications. Accordingly, the pressures against and the raids of the İpek Media Group are a fatal blow not only to free media, but also to opposition and democracy. The pressures and attacks on the İpek Media Group and other media organizations and dissident businessmen constitute a reckless and extremely bold attempt to destroy the last remnants of the moribund democratic state governed by the rule of law.

In blatant disregard for the sanctity of media and press freedoms, property rights and security of life that are enshrined in the Constitution as well as in international conventions and treaties to which Turkey is a signatory, Erdoğan's regime and his pawns in the government are committing grave offenses that they cannot account for and whose responsibility will crush them. Every single bureaucrat who helped them commit those offenses will eventually face grave charges and sentences. Indeed, this is the end of the misconception that the Erdoğan regime is targeting only the media outlets and businessmen close to the Hizmet movement, which Erdoğan abhors and accuses of being behind the graft scandal of Dec. 17, 2013. Today, everyone knows Erdoğan's despotic regime is not only targeting pro-Hizmet media or businessmen. Regardless of their ideological views or lifestyles, anyone who refuses to swear allegiance to Erdoğan and his despotic regime is targeted and faces great threat and danger.

Thus, all businessmen who are members of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD), particularly including the Koç Group, are threatened by Erdoğan's despotic regime. The list includes former TÜSİAD President Muharrem Yılmaz and prominent businessman Osman Kavala. All businessmen who own media outlets but refuse to swear allegiance to Erdoğan's regime face clear and imminent danger. Thus, the media outlets of the Doğan Media Group, Cumhuriyet, Sözcü, Birgün, Taraf and other dissident papers are just waiting for their turn to be targeted by Erdoğan's despotism. Several days ago, the secular Cumhuriyet newspaper had taken the threats seriously and displayed its reaction on its first page. The Kemalist/neo-nationalist Sözcü newspaper ran on Tuesday the headline "If Sözcü is silent, Turkey will be silent," allocating its entire front page to this report, with its columnist leaving their columns blank in protest.

This incited strong reaction on social media, which was further exacerbated by the police raids of the İpek Media Group, which owns the Bugün newspaper that published on Tuesday photographs showing how arms were sent to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Likewise, the world reacted harshly to the detention of Vice News reporters who are accused of supporting both ISIL and its enemy the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Those who seek to turn Turkey into a despotic one-man regime and, to this end, make the media and society univocal must come to their senses. You may still be the party with the highest percentage of votes and you may be assuming the presidential, prime ministerial, ministerial and bureaucratic positions, but this does not give you the right to commit crimes and overstep your powers and authorities. This does not entitle you to intimidate and suppress society, silence the opposition or undermine freedom of expression and thought.

It appears you are not inclined to hand over power through legal or democratic means over fears of being held accountable for your crimes and reprehensible actions. But do not forget that every unlawful and arbitrary actions you perform to establish a dictatorial regime will only add to the list of your crimes for which you will be held accountable. No one can create a typical Middle Eastern dictatorship in Turkey, which is integrated with the world and international economy, which has an extremely vibrant middle class and which appreciates the blessings of democracy and rule of law, even if it is limping.

Erdoğan's regime and the Ahmet Davutoğlu government, which habitually commit all forms of unlawfulness, arbitrariness and crimes, must never forget that their readiness to legitimize such illegitimate methods may put different and powerful dynamics into motion.

You cannot resort to methods of intimidation, pressure and direct confiscation of the media and the opposition -- which were not used even by military regimes -- and avoid the consequences. It is impossible for you to withstand the tsunami of reactions in Turkey and around the world. Please stop doing damage to this country. Do not add new crimes to the existing list of your crimes with a guilty conscience -- which is the result of avoiding being accountable for your crimes. Yes, the loser will be Turkey as it will be alienated from democratic and civilized world due to your antidemocratic, despotic and unlawful pressures. But do not forget that you will be the biggest loser.

And remember that whatever you do, people of free conscience can never be silenced! Free people cannot be silenced! The free media can never be silenced!

You will never silence us, but your efforts to silence us will certainly be a black stain in history. You will be remembered as unlawful and despotic tyrants in the future.

Published on Today's Zaman, 1 September 2015, Tuesday