Last week a party from Samanyolu broadcasting group and Zaman meet with Adam Christie (joint NUJ President) and me at NUJ HQ in London. Both media outlets are under government attack (see my blogs ‘Brazen attack…’ 15 December 2014 and ’More from Turkey’ 1 February 2015). Metin Yikar (Samanyola) and Selcuk Gultasli (Zaman Brussels representative) together with Kadir Uysaloglu (Zaman UK) visited us to thank the NUJ and EFJ for the support we have given their journalists who face increasing pressure from the government and to update on the situation facing Samanyolu Media Group head and journalist Hidayet Karaca, who was detained on 14 December for airing an episode of a soap opera that allegedly included encrypted “signals,” targeting an al-Qaeda-linked group!
They told us that on 25 April, a court ordered the release Karaca on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to keep him behind the bars (he still has not yet come to trial). The ruling outraged the government, who then jailed the judges who issued the verdict, invalidated the court ruling and described it as a “coup against the government.”
Shortly after this, Karaca appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that his detention was unlawful and that he was not receiving a fair trial. Subsequently, he was transferred to a newly-built ward in Silivri Prison, some 40 miles east of İstanbul, without his family or lawyer being informed – a clear violation of the law. Karaca, who has now been in prison for five months without any indictment, said on Twitter that there is no water in his new ward.
But there was worse to come with the news that an Ankara prosecutor, allegedly asked the Ministry of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications to disallow critical media outlets from using the state’s communications infrastructure. According to media reports, Ankara public prosecutor Serdar Coşkun, who is responsible for the Bureau for Crimes against the Constitutional Order, sent a document to the Turkish Satellite Communications Company (TÜRKSAT) Directorate General on 27 April, asking it to prevent a state-owned satellite connection being used by certain media outlets. This story has also been taken up by other newspapers.
According to a report in Zaman newspaper; “The reason behind the controversial move, which has come shortly before June’s general election, is allegedly the anti-government media outlets’ “creating polarization in the society and terrorizing people.” If the prosecutor’s demand is carried out, opposition parties will be deprived of the means to conduct their campaigns and convey their messages to the nation for the June election because most of the media in Turkey, which is controlled by the AK Party government, give little or no coverage to the election campaigns of the opposition parties.”
Meanwhile the Hurriyet newspaper part of the Dogan Media Group have both come under attack from President Erdogan for their coverage of the death sentence handed down by the Egyptian courts to the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in their 17 May edition.
Journalist Yosuf Kanli writing in the same newspaper on 20 May described the deteriorating situation in Turkey as follows: “The rights and liberties climate of the country is getting worse. Media is so “domesticated” with the climate of fear created by the government that mostly it cannot even dare report its own problems, while many media outlets and journalists have become lynch men of the government. The April report by Press for Freedom (PfF), the Ankara-based Journalists Association, stated: “The exclusion, alienation and discrimination against part of the press at the funeral of a savagely murdered prosecutor, at the presidency, ministries or the commercial presentation of a company are crimes against humanity. Journalists cannot be barred from news.” Indeed, censorship reached such alarming levels that press cards are rendered useless, journalists are denied access to news or accessing news has become the “privilege” of a “select few” journalists serving with the media outlets loyal to the government. In the first quarter of this year, 23 journalists and nine distributors were detained, one journalist was murdered and 10 were attacked. Three journalists and two caricaturists have been convicted of “slander” against the president or his family. The trial of a 17-year-old student in Konya on grounds he slandered the president for using the slogan “illegal palace, illegal” and the conviction of a journalist to a year in prison for sharing a message he liked on social media are “shocking” developments presenting a bleak photograph of the “advanced democracy.”