March 8, 2016

Erdogan Threatens Democracy, Media In Turkey

Cemal Yiğit

Nationwide anti-government protests have broken out in Turkey against the growing authoritarianism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with an internationally criticized crackdown on protestors by police, AKP youth members and criminal gangs that has led to several assaults, abuse, arrest and even death in the country.

Before this incident, an alleged US$100 billion government corruption scandal had been exposed in 2013 which led to the arrests of the president’s close allies, ministers and their families with Erdogan himself incriminated after a recording was released on social media.

He blamed the scandal on a coup attempt by a parallel structure formed by Fethullah Gülen’s supporters in high judicial offices. Erdoğan went ahead and implemented reforms that were criticized for placing the judiciary’s independence in doubt and also replaced those oppositions in judicial and police offices with his close allies. It was an attempt to subjugate the judiciary.

The government also has been criticized for the deteriorating freedom of press and social media, electoral fraud, demeaning the constitution and severe allegations on human rights’ violations, having blocked access to websites, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube on numerous occasions. Among corruption scandals, accusations of media intimidation, as well as the pursuit of an increasingly polarizing political agenda, the opposition has also accused the government of inciting political hatred throughout the country.

In 2015, amid consistent allegations, he maintained financial links with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants which also revealed that the state was supplying arms to militant groups in Syria.

In July 2015, Turkey became involved in the war against ISIS. The Turkish military simultaneously launched airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party based in Iraq.

Also in July 2015, a raid by United States of America Special Forces on a compound housing the Islamic State’s chief financial officer, Abu Sayyaf, produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with the ranking IS member.

As the President of Turkey, Erdoğan is required to be neutral and independent from partisan politics while taking the oath of office. Breaking such a presidential oath of office is a gross violation of the Constitution of Turkey. However, shortly after he resumed presidential duties, the opposition accused Erdoğan of breaking the terms of office with his open involvements and dealings with the AKP government.

In February 2015, Erdoğan was widely condemned by the opposition for calling for people to vote for the AKP in the upcoming June 2015 general election. In addition, he made an indirect statement to the opposition and criticised them for allegedly being on the side of Fethullah Gülen, which he said would not carry them along in his government.

He also criticised the opposition’s legal effort to prevent him from speaking publicly until the June 2015 general election.

During the campaign for the Turkish elections in June 2015, Erdoğan accused The New York Times of being represented by “Jewish capital” after foreign media outlets expressed concern over the dwindling freedom of expression in Turkey. The general election in June 2015, saw the Pro-Kudish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) win by 13 per cent thereby depriving Justice and Development Party (AKP) which is President Erdoğan’s party from forming the majority government. The Kurds are therefore, paying heavily for that. From excessive show of lethal force, round the clock curfews, severe human rights violations have become a daily experience for the Kurds as documented by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

During a televised press conference he was asked if he believed a presidential system was possible in a unitary state, he affirmed this and cited Nazi Germany as an example of how this is possible. Several media houses such as Koza Ipek media group, Bugun Television channel and newspaper houses have been raided. The government has furthermore, seized and clamped down on Koza Ipek Holding from any operations. Many journalists have been arrested for no justifiable reason.

On media intimidation and censorship, Erdoğan has been criticized for his politicization of the media, after the 2013 protests. The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) alleged that over 1,863 journalists lost their jobs due to their anti-government views in 12 years of AKP rule. Opposition politicians have also alleged that intimidation in the media is due to the government’s attempt to restructure the ownership of private media corporations. Journalists from the Cihan News Agency and the Zaman newspaper were repeatedly barred from attending government press conferences or asking questions.

In February 2015, a 13-year-old child was arrested after allegedly criticizing Erdoğan on Facebook. He also tightened controls over the internet, signing into law on 12 September 2014 a bill which allows the government to block websites without prior court order.

His government blocked Twitter and YouTube in late March 2014, following the release of a recording of a conversation between him and his son Bilal, where Erdoğan allegedly warned his family to ‘nullify’ all cash reserves at their home amid the 2013 corruption scandal.

Erdoğan has undertaken a media campaign that attempts to portray the presidential family as frugal and simple-living whereas their presidential palace electricity-bill is estimated at $500,000 per month. He uses a collection of journalists and newspapers referred to as “pool media” as his propaganda machinery and only report at his command.

In January 2016, more than a thousand academics from 90 Turkish universities signed a petition criticising Turkey’s government policies and military crackdown on ethnic Kurdish towns and neighbourhoods in the east of the country, such as Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre and Silopi, and asked for an end to the violence. The president accused those who signed the petition of “terrorist propaganda” and called them “the darkest of people”.

Furthermore, he called for action by institutions and universities, stating that, “Everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay.” Within days, over 30 of the signatories were arrested, many experienced dawn-time raids on their homes. Although all were quickly released, nearly half were fired from their jobs, eliciting a denunciation from Turkey’s Science Academy for such “wrong and disturbing” treatment. It did not stop Erdoğan from vowed that the academics whom he labelled as “traitors” would pay the price for “falling into a pit of treachery.”

The latest fad of president Erdoğan is to label any opponent within his country or outside as “enemies of national will” or as “terrorists” and thereby attacks anyone or organization who criticizes his government’s wrongdoings. Going on a Latin America tour and starting with Santiago, Chile on 1 February 2016, he experienced protests against his government policies and activities. Also, violence erupted at a press conference in Ecuador during his visit, as three women where manhandled and thrown out by the Turkish security as an Ecuadorean lawmaker, Diego Vintimilla was brutally injured in the course of protecting the women. He has posted photos showing the bruises and bloody nose on his Twitter account. Video footage of this occurrence has since hit the social media. The latest is on the clampdown on the media.

Police raided the headquarters of the Zaman daily and used pepper gas against thousands of readers after an İstanbul court appointed trustees to take over the management of the Feza Media Group, which includes Turkey’s biggest-selling newspaper, the Zaman daily, as well as the Today’s Zaman daily and the Cihan news agency, dealing a fresh blow to the already battered media freedom in Turkey. Zaman employees waiting near the entrance said police immediately tear-gassed readers to disperse them without even delivering the court decision.

The decision was issued by the İstanbul 6th Criminal Court of Peace at the request of the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which claimed that the media group acted upon orders from what it called the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY),” praising the group and helping it achieve its goals in its publications.

The prosecutor also claimed that the alleged terrorist group is cooperating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist organization to topple the Turkish government and that high-level officials of the two groups have had meetings abroad.

The court decision means that the entire management and the editorial board of Feza Media Group companies will be replaced by the three-member board named by the court.

Published on Leadership, 8 March 2016, Tuesday