The European Union has said a media assault on Zaman daily and other media outlets is an “unacceptable attack” against freedom of media, urging Turkish authorities to respect rights of defendants.
Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, and Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of Samanyolu TV, were detained on Sunday in a police operation that targeted journalists, TV scriptwriters and former police officers.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative for Foreign affairs & Security Policy and Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations, said in a joint statement on Sunday that the police raids and arrests of a number of journalists and media representatives in Turkey are an unacceptable attack against freedom of media, which is a core principle in any real democracy.
They recalled that progress in accession negotiations with any candidate country depends on the full respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights.
Earlier on Sunday, the EU commission expressed its concern over the Dec. 14 operation in Turkey targeting media outlets and journalists affiliated with the Hizmet movement, saying it will continue to follow developments related to the operation with its local delegation.
European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz described the raid on the Zaman daily as “troubling” and underlined that media freedom is one of the key values for full membership to the EU, which Turkey has been struggling to be a part of for decades.
Alexander Lambsdorff, the vice president of the EP, stated that the Turkish government’s acts targeting the media are jeopardizing its EU membership.
EP Turkey rapporteur Kati Piri, who recently paid a visit to Turkey for her progress report, also expressed astonishment over the detentions targeting leading media outlets in the country, saying the operation is an “attack on press freedom.”
A total of 31 people — mostly high ranked media personnel, directors and producers of popular television serials and police officers — were taken into custody by the police. The suspects are accused of forming, leading or being a member of an armed terrorist organization, forgery and slander, according to a statement released by the prosecutor’s office.
Former Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Committee Co-chairman Joost Lagendijk said the EU will harshly condemn the detentions. He said people will find it hard to understand why these detentions took place as Zaman and Today’s Zaman are well known in Europe.
Senior Turkey researcher with the Human Rights Watch Emma Sinclair-Webb viewed the raid on the Zaman daily and Samanyolu TV as another attempt to silence the critical media in Turkey.
The detentions came just after a government-sponsored bill that made it possible to arrest suspects based on “reasonable doubt” was signed into law.
As the prosecutor in charge of the investigation has issued a confidentiality order in the cases, neither the lawyers nor the suspects are allowed to see the content of the investigation file.
The Zaman daily and the Samanyolu television station are among the media outlets which have been critical of the government for alleged corruption since two major graft probes went public in December of last year. The police operation came just ahead of the first anniversary of graft probes on Dec. 17 and 25 of last year.
Among the several police officers who were detained are Tufan Ergüder and Mutlu Ekizoğlu, former heads respectively of the Anti-terrorism Unit in the İstanbul Police Department and of the Department of Organized Crime. Nuh Gönültaş, a columnist for the Bugün daily and Makbule Çam Alemdağ, Tek Türkiye’s scriptwriter, are also among those detained.
Salih Asan, producer of two television serials broadcast on Samanyolu television — Tek Türkiye (Undivided Turkey) and Sungurlar (Falcons) — and Engin Koç, Sungurlar’s director, are also among those detained in the police operation.
Fikret Duran, Karaca’s lawyer, told reporters in front of the İstanbul Police Department that the detaining of the suspects was illegal, as the arrest warrants were issued by a prosecutor rather than a judge as required by law.
Duran also said what the suspects were accused of and that the contents of the file are totally different from each other. “It is only to be able to issue an arrest verdict [the suspects are faced with] charges of committing a crime against the constitutional order. But the headline and the content [in the file] contradict each other.”
Crowds of people protested the operation in front of both Zaman buildings. Thousands showed solidarity with the detained journalists by shouting, “The free media cannot be silenced,” ”Say stop to unlawfulness,” and “We do not fear the cruel.”
Dumanlı said the protesters reacted in a peaceful and democratic way by only chanting pro-freedom slogans and that the police officials faced no physical resistance.
Several lawmakers who are former ruling AK Party deputies –İdris Bal, leader of the Democratic Progress Party (DGP), İdris Naim Şahin, one of the founders of the Party of Nation and Justice (MİLAD), and Hakan Şükür — paid a visit to the Zaman daily in a show of support to editor-in-chief Dumanlı before he was detained around noon by the police at the daily’s headquarters.
US urges Turkey to protect democratic values after media raid
The United States State Department called on Turkish authorities to protect media freedom and other democratic values in response to media raids and detentions in operations across Turkey on Sunday.
The State Department was closely following reports of the raids and arrests, and media outlets that have been openly critical of the current Turkish government appeared to be among the targets of the actions by Turkish law enforcement, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“Media freedom, due process, and judicial independence are key elements in every healthy democracy and are enshrined in the Turkish constitution,” Psaki said in a statement. “As Turkey’s friend and ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions do not violate these core values and Turkey’s own democratic foundations.”
Opposition parties describe detentions as ‘civilian coup’
“Turkey has witnessed a civilian coup. This is a coup against democracy,” Kemal Kılıçaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told reporters.
Given that the operation was held shortly before the anniversary of two sweeping graft probes that came to public attention on Dec. 17 and 25 of last year, there is speculation that the operation is part of a government effort to stop the anniversary from being used as a springboard for popular protests.
Noting that following the two corruption probes — after which four Cabinet ministers left their posts, Turkey saw its government use state powers for its own benefit, Kılıçdaroğlu said the government had conducted the operation because it did not want the claims of corruption to come to the agenda. “Detaining journalists and storming newspapers and TV networks in the early morning is not a something [the CHP] would accept,” the CHP leader added.
Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Mustafa Destici also criticized the operation, saying that it is being conducted in order to place the media under psychological pressure. “This kind of operation against the media and journalists … could not be conducted in a democratic country where the rule of law prevails,” Destici said in a written statement.
CHP spokesperson Haluk Koç also lashed out at the government. Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, Koç accused the government of trying to cover up claims of widespread corruption. “We will never accept the application of pressure against any media outlet. The rule of law cannot be said to exist in a regime in which those in power manipulate the law to get rid of accusations leveled against them,” Koç said, underlining that the CHP would stand by the victims of legal violations by the government.
İdris Bal, leader of the Democratic Progress Party (DGP) and an independent deputy, has said the public has been psychologically prepared by pro-government media outlets for an operation against those media outlets which are critical of the government.
Independent deputy and former Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay told Today’s Zaman that the government has chosen to go after those who run stories about the claims of corruption instead of providing an explanation to the public on whether the claims are true or not.
Lütfü Türkkan, an MHP deputy, criticized those who remain silent in the face of the such moves against the freedom of the press, saying that “remaining silent about these detentions amounts to tolerating fascism.”
*Note: Indialogue Foundation denounces the breach of freedom of expression, detention of Journalists on mere “reasonable doubt” and attempt in silencing the critical media in Turkey.
Source: Cihan News Agency, http://en.cihan.com.tr/