September 2, 2015

Press organizations condemn police raids against İpek Media Group

Press organizations have condemned police raids on Koza İpek Holding and its subsidiaries, defining the operation as “political” and aimed at silencing free media.

Auditors accompanied by a police escort conducted a raid on the offices of Koza İpek Holding in Ankara on Tuesday morning, with simultaneous raids on subsidiaries of the group being carried out elsewhere.

The Turkish dailies Bugün and Millet, TV stations Bugün TV and Kanaltürk, and the website are all subsidiaries of the İpek Media Group.

In remarks given to Today's Zaman on Tuesday, the president of the Press Council, Pınar Türenç, defined the police raid on Koza İpek Holding and affiliated media outlets as an attempt to silence and intimidate the independent media.

Türenç, rejecting the accusation brought against Koza İpek Holding as “aiding a terrorist organization," argued that the raiding of media outlets on Tuesday morning with dozens of police cars is nothing but a display of power by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, with an aim to intimidate the press.

The National Police Department drafted a secret report in June 2014 which was mostly based on stories in the pro-government media claiming that Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar who promotes interfaith dialogue, was the leader of a terrorist organization and was responsible for wiretapping a classified meeting at the Foreign Ministry. The Ankara 7th Criminal Court of Peace ordered the raids on Koza İpek Holding on Tuesday morning, on the accusation of providing financial support to the trumped-up terrorist organization.

She pointed out that the raid against media outlets affiliated with Koza İpek has no place in a democracy as it obstructs the people's right to information in blocking it.

“We learnt [about the operation against critical media] from Fuat Avni a few days ago. His predictions are turning out to be true. Auditors have been inspecting media outlets for a while. This is unacceptable since the financial auditing of a company is supposed to be carried out once a year,” said Türenç.

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

The Press Council also released a statement on Tuesday pointing out that the raids against media outlets taint the reputation of Turkey even further.

The organization, stressing that it is not tolerable to see a journalist in jail, called on journalists to organize and act in solidarity, especially ahead of the critical snap elections that will be held on Nov. 1.

The Turkish Journalists' Association (TGC) published a statement on Tuesday, lamenting that Turkey had become a country where the freedom of the press is infringed upon and raids on the media are conducted.

“With operations against the media, democracy is becoming alienated in Turkey. We see that the interim administration continues its habit of defining the journalism profession as a terrorist activity and journalists as terrorists,” it was stated.

The TGC also called on members of the organization to speak out against the raids, via a statement made on the organization's Twitter account on Tuesday.

In a statement to Today's Zaman on Tuesday, Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) Chairman Ahmet Abakay criticized the operation against the media subsidiaries of Koza İpek Holding by calling the raids “political” and attempting to block people's right to information.

“I view these raids as a political assault and an attempt to silence the media and destroy press freedom. I am concerned that these raids will spread to other media outlets. It is also a pity that while such an important event is taking place, other TV channels are failing to cover it and are broadcasting routinely,” said Abakay.

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

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

Fuat Avni also stated that the seizing of critical media would 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.

‘Police raids on İpek Media Group a sign of authoritarianism'

In a press release on Tuesday, the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) said it viewed the police raids on Koza İpek Holding as a sign of authoritarianism in Turkey and a subordination of the judiciary to the government.

“Free press is indispensable in democracies. It is unacceptable to crack down on people's right to information and is an infringement of freedom of expression by force not seen in modern times,” said the GYV.

The Media Ethics Council (MEK) also released a statement on Tuesday, warning that any attempt to silence the media will damage Turkey's prestige in the international arena.

The MEK noted that the police operation targeting Koza İpek Holding came on the very day the Bugün daily, an affiliate of the company, ran a front-page story featuring the transfer of weapons to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from Turkey. The organization further stated that the reason for the police raids was to silence the critical media ahead of the Nov. 1 general election.

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