Published in Athens Views (print – no longer in circulation) on 19 December 2014
Last Sunday, police raided the offices of Today’s Zaman and Samanyolu Television – two of Turkey’s largest media outlets – and arrested several high ranked staff members. The raid came only a few days after the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, started a new campaign against Fethullah Gulen and his supporters. More than 30 people were arrested on Sunday including police officers, and media workers.
According to reports, the police operation was expected after a popular twitter account reported that 400 people including journalists were being monitored by the government as they were suspected to be Gulen supporters. Among those detained are Ekrem Dumanli, Zaman’s editor-in-chief, as well as Hidayet Karaca, the head of Samanyolu Media Group. The statement by the Public Prosecutor’s Office mentions that “The detentions have been ordered [for the people on the list] in order to take their testimonies on charges of founding and directing an armed terror organization, being a member of this organization, and engaging in forgery and slander”. Zaman is generally considered (or depicted) to be a pro-Gulen newspaper. Fethullah Gulen – the spiritual leader of the Hizmet movement – and an ex-supporter of Erdogan, has now turned a vocal critic is in self-exile in Pennsylvania, USA. He has managed to gather great support within Turkey and through various ways which include schools and charities which have also been targeted by the government.
The Turkish government has been openly targeting Gulen’s supporters since last year when they were accused of fabricating the corruption scandal that targeted the government and Erdogan himself. Last year’s scandal has been one of the biggest in Turkey’s modern history. As a Zaman blogger, who wishes to remain anonymous says, “This timing [of the arrests] is chosen to manipulate the masses and make the people forget the corruption”.
Erdogan’s relentless targeting of his opponents has seriously damaged Turkey’s image abroad. The government’s move on Sunday has been vastly criticised by Turkey’s allies. In a statement the High Commissioner for External Affairs, Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the EU Enlargement Commissioner said the arrests are “incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy”. Jen Psaki, the US State Department Spokesperson said “Voicing opposition does not equal conspiracy or treason”. At the same time Erdogan claims to combat the “parallel state” within the country which is trying to undermine his power and at the same time is plotting a coup.
Regardless the reasons of the raid , media freedom in Turkey has taken yet another blow. The Turkish government and Erdogan in specific have been targeting social media, journalists and those who work in media outlets in an attempt to control everything that “goes out”. In the most recent World Media Freedom index published by Reporters without Borders, Turkey ranks 154th, lower than Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia. According to the report, Turkey is “one of the biggest prisons for journalists” and President Erdogan does his best to justify this statement. The ‘regional model of democracy’ which the Turkish government tried to build after the Arab Uprisings is falling like a domino day after day. The fact that Erdogan is trying to become yet another ruler with all the powers concentrated to his hands cannot is now crystal clear. The European Union should take good notes of that since full membership negotiations formally begun in 2005. Turkey’s foreign relations with neighbouring countries should be the least of the Union’s concerns as it seems the current government’s number one enemy is its own citizens.