Turkey sees unprecedented pressure on media since Dec. 14 operation

Former Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı (C), escorted by plainclothes police officers, is cheered on by his colleagues as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in İstanbul. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
Former Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı (C), escorted by plainclothes police officers, is cheered on by his colleagues as he leaves the headquarters of Zaman daily newspaper in İstanbul. (Photo: Today's Zaman)

Date posted: December 14, 2015


Monday marks the first anniversary of a government-backed operation against prominent media groups in the country that resulted in the detention of dozens of individuals, mostly high ranked media personnel, and ever since that day pressure on critical journalists and news outlets has skyrocketed in the country, leading to the take-over and even closure of many media outlets and the incarceration of many journalists.

Marked by various rights violations since it began with dawn raids on Dec.14, 2014, the Dec. 14 operation, among others, led to the detention of then Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı of Turkey’s most circulated daily, Zaman, and Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca.

The Zaman daily and Samanyolu television station are among the media outlets that have been critical of the government for alleged corruption since two major graft probes went public in December 2013. The police operation came just ahead of the first anniversary of the graft probes on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013.

While Dumanlı was released pending trial five days later on Dec. 19, 2014, Karaca is still in prison without any solid evidence against him.

Both journalists are accused of “running a terrorist organization,” based on no evidence other than news reports, columns and a fictional television series. The operation took place as part of a government-orchestrated investigation seemingly targeting dissenters.

There was already immense pressure on critical media before the Dec.14 operation, but from this date on, Turkey’s journalists have faced pressure of all forms, from being subjected to physical violence, to getting fired and being sent to jail just for doing their job.

On Jan. 6, the state-run Anatolia News Agency fired 15 journalists, while two journalists were fired from the Habertürk daily on Feb. 12 because they mistakenly referred to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is the former prime minister, as prime minister in a news report.

Outspoken journalist put behind bars

On March 2, investigative journalist and an outspoken government critic Mehmet Baransu, who worked for the Taraf daily before his arrest, was put behind bars over charges of releasing classified documents.

The journalist was arrested over documents that he submitted to prosecutors in 2010, prompting a major coup trial known as “Sledgehammer” (Balyoz) that implicated top military brass. Baransu is actually facing more than 50 court cases and a total sentence of 1,000 years in prison.

Two cartoonists, Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan, from popular Turkish satirical magazine Penguen were sentenced to almost one year in prison on March 24 for insulting President Erdoğan by implying in a cartoon that he was homosexual.

The prison sentence of 11 months and 20 days was converted into a fine by the court whereby each cartoonist had to pay a total of TL 7,000, i.e., TL 20 in lieu of each day in prison.

On April 16, BirGün daily’s Managing Editor Barış İnce was convicted and given a fine of TL10,620 to pay for insulting President Erdoğan and his son Bilal.

The number of legal cases filed against journalists and other individuals over charges of insulting the president or other government officials has increased dramatically ever since Erdoğan was elected president last year.

Journalists were also subjected to physical violence just for trying to fulfill their journalistic duties.

One such journalist was Zaman daily reporter Emre Şencan, who was beaten and briefly detained by the police while he was taking photos at Gezi Park near İstanbul’s Taksim Square on May 31. This was the day that marked the second anniversary of the nationwide Gezi protests that erupted in late May 2013 over a government plan to destroy the park to build a shopping mall in its place. Şencan was beaten by a plainclothes police chief. The incident attracted widespread criticism.

On July 22, the Milliyet daily parted ways with veteran journalist Kadri Gürsel due to messages he wrote on social media condemning President Erdoğan in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in the Suruç district of Şanlıurfa on July 20 that claimed the lives of more than 30 people.

Accreditation ban during funerals

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government on Aug. 20 introduced an accreditation ban on media organizations other than the state-run Anatolia news agency and TRT during the funerals of soldiers and police officers who were killed during clashes with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) because more and more families began to voice their criticism of the government due to the escalation of violence in the country.

In early September, offices of the İpek Media Group were raided by the police in a politically motivated operation while TRT fired academic and journalist Professor Deniz Ülke Arıboğan due to a tweet she posted that was critical of the police raid.

The Doğan Media Group was also on the AK Party government and its supporters’ target list. The main building of the group’s flagship daily Hürriyet was attacked by a group of angry protesters led by then AK Party deputy Abdurrahim Boynukalın on Sept. 5. The daily’s headquarters was raided for a second time several days later and the building sustained substantial damage.

The offices of the İpek Media Group were again raided on Sept. 9 while another police raid took place at the offices of the Nokta newsweekly magazine on Sept. 13 on accusations of “propagating terror” and “insulting President Erdoğan” through its latest edition depicting a smiling Erdoğan taking a selfie with the flag-draped coffin of a soldier in the background. All published copies of the magazine were rounded up and withdrawn from sale.

Gültekin Avcı, a former prosecutor who has since turned to journalism, was arrested by an İstanbul court on Sept.20 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government in seven columns he had written. He is still behind bars.

On Sept. 28, a police raid on the Dicle news agency resulted in the detention of 32 journalists.

On Sept. 30, four people attacked Ahmet Hakan Coşkun, a popular columnist at the Hürriyet daily and a prominent TV presenter, in front of his house in İstanbul’s Nişantaşı neighborhood. Coşkun was hospitalized and found to have suffered broken bones.

One of the suspects, detained in connection with the attack on Coşkun, claimed that the National Intelligence Organization [MİT] and “reis” — a Turkish word meaning leader used in pro-government circles to refer to President Erdoğan — were involved in the incident.

On Oct. 10, former Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş was arrested on charges of insulting the president. Keneş was released pending trial five days later.

Trustees appointed to İpek media

Just five days before the Nov. 1 snap election, Turkey witnessed the appointment of a panel of trustees to the İpek Koza Holding company in yet another government-backed move, which apparently aimed to intimidate independent journalists and attracted widespread negative reaction.

The trustees took over the management of the Bugün and Millet dailies and the channels Bugün TV and Kanaltürk early on Oct. 28 when police forcibly entered the broadcasting headquarters of the media group, during which journalists and protesters claimed they were subjected to police brutality. The trustees immediately fired dozens of journalists from the group and turned the news outlets, which used to have a critical stance, into government mouthpieces.

Despite pledges from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, whose party won a landslide victory in the Nov. 1 election, to expand freedoms in the country, Nokta magazine editors Cevheri Güven and responsible managing editor Murat Çapan were arrested on Nov. 3 on the charge of inciting the public to armed conflict based on a report published in their magazine.

The offices of the Zaman Media Group were also raided on Nov. 12 over claims that the Özgür Bugün daily — which was launched after trustees were appointed to the Bugün daily’s administration in a controversial decision — was being printed at a printing house belonging to the Zaman daily.

Police even broke into the newsrooms of the Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies, and the Aksiyon weekly magazine although it only had a permit to search the group’s printing house.

Samanyolu screens go black

Yet, another controversial move showing the huge government pressure on critical media groups came only several hours before the beginning of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit that took place in Turkey on Nov. 15-16. as Turkey saw the screens of 14 TV channels go black, as well as the silencing of several radio channels that operate under the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group because they were removed from the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) infrastructure.

Türksat dropped these media outlets despite having signed an agreement with Samanyolu Broadcasting Group that necessitated service being provided until 2024. The move left hundreds of journalists jobless.

The latest victims of the government-pressure on critical media were the Cumhuriyet daily’s Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and its Ankara representative Erdem Gül who were arrested on Nov. 27 due to a news report they published in May. The report claimed that MİT was twice caught smuggling weapons into Syria in 2014. The trucks were allegedly stopped and searched by police, with photos and videos of their contents obtained by Cumhuriyet.

Source: Today's Zaman , December 13, 2015

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