November 13, 2015

Pressure over critical media despite warnings from EU, US

Despite criticism from press organizations and the Western world over the deterioration press freedom in Turkey ahead of the upcoming G-20 summit, pressure over critical media continues uninterrupted with yet another columnist facing investigations for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

An investigation has been launched into Nokta magazine columnist Perihan Mağden for her remarks in an interview with the Diken news portal.

Mağden likened Erdoğan to a “tiger,” in the interview, saying: “Erdoğan is like a tiger in a tight corner. He behaves like a wild animal.”

Mağden refers to the situation Erdoğan is in because of accusations of corruption held against him since in December 2013. In sharp contrast with the increasing government pressure over critical media since the corruption investigations, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently said freedom of the press and intellectual freedoms are a "personal redline" for him as a former academic.

Noting that he also contributed columns to media outlets in the past, he said during an interview with CNN International on Nov. 9, “So freedom of the press and intellectual freedom are redlines for me.”

He also added, “If there's an attack on any intellectual or columnist or a journalist, I will defend them. I give assurances of this.”

On Friday, a total of five reporters from the pro-Kurdish Dicle (DİHA), and Jin news agencies, as well as İMC TV were detained by the police after being assaulted as they tried to cover armed clashes between the security forces and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the eastern town of Erciş.

Video footage circulated on social media showing the reporters being assaulted by the police officers before they were detained. Turkish media reported that their cameras were also seized. The video showed that the police tried to put handcuffs on the reporters.

A reporter from İMC TV, Bekir Güneş, said on his Twitter account, “We were detained in Erciş after being assaulted. Now they are taking us to the police station.”

A noncommissioned officer was killed, while three soldiers were wounded in clashes with the PKK outside Erciş earlier the same day.

In yet another recent development, Canan Coşkun, a Cumhuriyet daily reporter, is facing trial for her report which said some members of the judiciary were allowed to buy an apartment at a reduced price.

According to a report in the daily's news portal on Friday, the İstanbul chief prosecutor confirmed the price reduction in a press statement. Coşkun is facing up to 23 years and 4 months in prison.

Turkey will host the G-20 summit in Antalya on Nov. 15-16, but several Turkish media outlets which are critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have so far been denied accreditation.

Zaman, Today's Zaman and Sözcü are among the dailies which have not been granted accreditation to cover the G-20 summit. The Cihan News Agency and Samanyolu television station are also among the victims of the ban against critical media.

The United States has urged the government to encourage critical opinions, while expressing concern over the refusal to grant accreditation to media outlets critical of the government. "We are concerned by a troubling pattern in Turkey of targeting media outlets and other organizations that are critical of the government," a US State Department spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also added that in a democratic society "critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced."

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum (WEF) also condemned the recent move by the Turkish government to not grant accreditation to critical media outlets.

An arrest warrant was recently issued for a former editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, Ekrem Dumanlı, who is being accused, based on two op-ed pieces and one article published in Zaman six years ago, of establishing and administrating an armed organization.

EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in remarks to Today's Zaman on Friday regarding the arrest warrant for Dumanlı, “We note with serious concern the press reports on an arrest warrant issued for Ekrem Dumanlı.”

Kocijancic also said that they also note the recent police raid on the Zaman daily with serious concern and are following the developments closely.

The Zaman daily's headquarters were raided by the police late on Nov. 11 over claims that the Özgür Bugün daily -- which was launched after trustees were appointed to the Bugün daily's administration based on a controversial court order -- was being printed at a printing house belonging to Zaman.

Prime Minister Davutoğlu's remarks about a “redline” came in response to a question about a government-backed crackdown on critical media. Just several days before the Nov.1 election, Turkey saw the taking over of the management of Koza İpek Holding by a group of trustees appointed by the government in an apparently politically motivated move.

Koza İpek Holding comprises 22 companies, including the Kanaltürk and Bugün TV channels, the Millet and Bugün dailies, İpek University and a number of other subsidiaries. The trustees have not only fired dozens of journalists from the news outlets of the İpek Media Group.

The trustees have not only fired dozens of journalists from the news outlets of the İpek Media Group, they have also turned the group's TV stations and newspapers, which used to have a critical stance, into government mouthpieces.

In yet another development on Wednesday, a detention warrant was issued for journalist Tuncay Opçin as part of an investigation into the irregularities in the Sledgehammer trial. “Sledgehammer” is the name of a 2003-dated coup plot.

The detention warrant for Opçin was issued based on the testimony of journalist Mehmet Baransu's ex-wife, who told prosecutors that Opçin used to give Baransu documents to publish in return for money and that Baransu used to write "important news reports" after meeting with Opçin.

Baransu, who is currently behind bars, was the journalist who in 2010 broke the story about the Sledgehammer coup plot that aimed to topple the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

In another development, one of the suspects, Kamuran Ergin, who was detained and then released under judicial supervision in connection with an attack on journalist Ahmet Hakan in October, has been released once again by a penal court of peace he was referred to for arrest because he did not check in at a police station on Friday.

According to a story in the Hürriyet daily on Wednesday, since Ergin was placed under judicial supervision, he has been required to check in at a police station every Monday and Friday. He has been referred to court for arrest after violating his release provisions, having failed to show up at a police station on Friday. The court decided on his release on the grounds that it could not be proven that he did not have a valid reason not to go to the police station. Ergin claimed he was extremely ill, making it impossible for him to pay a visit to the police station.

Only one of the seven suspects had been arrested in connection with the attack on Ahmet Hakan, which took place in front of the journalist's house in İstanbul on Oct. 1.

In its annual progress report on Turkey, released on Tuesday, the EU called for counter measures against the intimidation of journalists and for investigations into threats and attacks against journalists.

However, restrictions on freedom of the press continue to be a major challenge for journalists to perform their profession in the country, with many having to go to court over their articles or views.

In one recent examples of such restrictions, veteran journalist Ahmet Altan, an outspoken government critic, testified to prosecutors on Wednesday as part of two investigations concerning him on charges of insulting the president and “inciting hatred and animosity among the public."

One of the investigations was launched following a complaint by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's lawyer, while the other was launched by the General Directorate of Penal Affairs of the Ministry of Justice.

Altan faces the accusations due to an interview he gave to in April and interviews he gave to Bugün TV and Samanyolu TV in September.

Speaking to reporters in front of the İstanbul Courthouse, Altan said if a president repeatedly violates the Constitution, he will most definitely be criticized.

Two separate investigations have also been launched into prominent journalist Cengiz Çandar over claims that he insulted President Erdoğan in seven of his columns in the Radikal daily. Radikal reported that Erdoğan's lawyer Ahmet Özel had submitted a petition to the İstanbul Public Prosecutor's Office and said Çandar had attacked Erdoğan's personal rights by insulting him in the media. In a written notice sent to Çandar, the prosecutor's office cited seven of Çandar's columns published on between July 26 and Aug. 19 as the reason for the investigation.

Under the presidency of Erdoğan, it has been an almost daily occurrence in Turkey for journalists and public figures to face legal action on charges of insulting the president or the government and some even receive prison sentences. Several columnists, including Ertuğrul Özkök, Hasan Cemal and Perihan Mağden, are already facing investigations for insulting Erdoğan, while Özkök, a columnist for Hürriyet, is facing a 30-month prison sentence on charges of insulting a senior AK Party official.

Today's Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş was convicted of insulting the president and handed a suspended prison sentence of 21 months earlier this year on grounds that he insulted the president in a Twitter post. Keneş did not even mention the president's name in his tweet and his sentence has attracted worldwide condemnation.

Last month, TV producer and journalist Uğur Dündar and Sözcü daily columnist Necati Doğru were also sentenced to 11 months and 20 days in prison by an İstanbul court for insulting former Minister Binali Yıldırım and President Erdoğan, respectively, though the court allowed them to pay a fine in lieu of serving their sentences.

Published on Today's Zaman, 13 November 2015, Friday