January 25, 2016

An important warning for past and present rulers

Abdülhamit Bilici

Those who have a memory like a sieve may have forgotten it already but the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was under threat from antidemocratic forces during its first two governmental terms.

The pro-status quo forces that do not like democracy have been effective in many institutions. The coup plots codenamed Ayışığı (Moonlight), Yakamoz (Sea Sparkle), and Balyoz (Sledgehammer), the midnight military memorandum and the attempt to shut down the AK Party were some of the antidemocratic steps, to name a few. In those days, it took quite a bit of courage to raise any objection to them. Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Mehmet Baransu, Alper Görmüş and many other courageous intellectuals came to the fore to defy these anti-democratic moves and lend support to the AK Party.

In our country, there has always been a price to pay for advocating justice and democracy. The Nokta weekly news magazine, whose editor-in-chief was Alper Görmüş, was one of those that paid that price. They were not welcomed with flowers when they published coup diaries in 2007. The weekly faced great pressure after disclosing secret documents of the General Staff. On April 13, 2007 -- i.e., two weeks before the midnight memorandum -- the police raided Nokta in accordance with a decision passed by a military court.

Professional organizations condemned the raid, saying that it was unlawful oppression that sought to intimidate the media. However, the pressure was so overwhelming that the owner of the magazine had to halt its publication. But were the efforts to silence the media of any benefit to those who were behind them? No. Those who undertook such moves have lost their prestige in the eyes of society and in the democratic world. In a judgment announced last week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Turkey to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in connection with the Nokta raid, ordering Turkey to pay compensation to the victimized journalists.

The Strasbourg court underlined three violations, which may well serve as precedents for the raids against Bugün TV, Samanyolu TV and other media organizations: The raid was a violation of journalists' right to keep their sources secret and an uneasy working environment has been created for sources if they are public employees; the raid breached journalists' right to disseminate news with the confiscation of the magazine's computer data; and it had a deterrent effect on sources who might help the media report on military issues.

At the time of the Nokta raid, the AK Party was in power but it was hardly the real master of the state apparatus. The coup plots were acts by the real masters of the state apparatus. Oddly enough, today, the AK Party can be considered to be the real master of the state apparatus but critical media outlets and journalists face far greater pressure than they did in the past. The Nokta magazine was raided again during this period as well. This time, the raiders were not content merely with searching the magazine and journalists; they also put the editor-in-chief and the managing editor of the magazine in solitary confinement and kept them there for days. The powers in charge in the past were content with withdrawing accreditation from TV channels and newspapers that they didn't like. The powers that be today also deny accreditation but in addition, they halt broadcasts and publications, prevent outlets from obtaining advertisements or confiscate them altogether. They abused jailed journalist Baransu by keeping him in a toilet, while they put Can Dündar in solitary confinement; they imprisoned and disbarred the judges who issued a court decision to release Hidayet Karaca, who has been in jail pending trial in connection with a soap opera.

This is extremely painful for the victims of oppression and it is a saddening fact for our country but the Strasbourg court's Nokta judgment has a clear message: Just as those in charge in the past have been convicted for what they did at the time, those who are currently committing far greater unlawfulness than them will be convicted in the future. The ECtHR will condemn all the unlawful acts of the last few years. Failing which, divine justice will manifest itself sooner or later. Those who victimize other people as well as those who are victimized by them should remember this fact.

Easy to criticize Zaman, but…

A columnist at the Hürriyet newspaper didn't like my call to "support democracy before pressure comes to find us all." Apparently, the author is still unable to realize that the strategy of "attacking the Hizmet community in order to sort things out with the ruling party" is an opportunistic and unsound one. What can we say to a person who has failed to make sense of the raid into his newspaper, who was injured in a physical assault, the odd charges raised against his own group such as terrorism and smuggling or the threats being hurled around by contract columnists?

The columnist is question is also not aware of the fact that the bar has been raised very high in order to curry favor with the ruling party by holding the Hizmet (Gülen) movement responsible for all evils in the country. Indeed, only putting the blame for the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the match-fixing, the coups or graft investigations on the Hizmet movement has long been obsolete! A person who seeks to earn the ruling party's favor should also hold the Hizmet movement responsible for the Soma mining disaster, the murders of the priest Andrea Santoro, Üzeyir Garih, Hrant Dink, the Christian missionaries in Malatya, Ahmet Taner Kışlalı and Uğur Mumcu and the attack on the Council of State. This is what Doğu Perinçek, the leader of the ultranationalist Homeland Party (VP), is doing by appearing on pro-government TV channels to say, "The AKP has started to adopt our stance." Moreover, although the Hizmet movement has been devastated, certain Kurds and journalist continue to be arrested.

Who is democratic? And to what extent?

Let us recall some past events. When someone was making life in this country unbearable for Ahmet Kaya by calling him "dishonorable," it was Zaman that gave him a platform to defend himself. When someone made Dink a target, it was Zaman that accepted articles from his close friend Etyen Mahçupyan. It was Zaman that had plenty of room for intellectuals from all ideologies including Herkül Millas, Şahin Alpay, Elif Şafak and Selim İleri.

Let us suppose that Zaman, which has lent incessant support to Turkey's bid to become a full member of the European Union and which has had its accreditation denied in every extraordinary period, is not sufficiently democratic in your eyes. But to what extent are you democratic? You invited on your TV programs the families and lawyers of the defendants in the lawsuits against Ergenekon -- a clandestine organization nested within the state trying to overthrow or manipulate the democratically elected government -- and Sledgehammer, a suspected coup plot believed to have been devised in 2003 with the aim of unseating the AK Party government through violent acts. It was a sensible attitude. But did you ever invite the families or lawyers of the judges, prosecutors, police chiefs, Ekrem Dumanlı, Karaca, Gültekin Avcı, Baransu, etc. on your programs? No. If you call yourself a democrat, then invite us to your program so that we can discuss these things.

On the other hand, Zaman indiscriminately lends support to Dink, Tahir Elçi, Dündar and Karaca. Just as we stood beside Ahmet Hakan when he was physically attacked, we give room to targeted academics. Yet, you discriminate against journalists even today. There are 32 journalists in jail, but you only show the photos of Dündar and Erdem Gül in your column. What about the others journalists? I don't remember if you visited Zaman or Dumanlı to show support after the police raided Zaman. You refused to sign the democratic intellectuals' call for the release of the journalists in jail.

As we can see, you are in no position to teach a democratic lesson to Zaman or its editor-in-chief. We benefit from criticism not only from you but from everyone. We engage in self-criticism for our errors in the past. But when all democratic intellectuals and journalists from the right and the left are in a life-and-death fight, the trick of rummaging through old stories or surrendering to intellectual baggage is of no use to anyone. It is time to learn from our past blunders and defend democracy together.

Published on Today's Zaman, 25 January 2016, Monday