12th Apr 2021


My boss, the 'terrorist'

  • Erdogan has all of a sudden started using Twitter to spread anti-smoking messages (Photo: svenwerk)

Reporters without Borders has published (12 February) its annual press freedom index and, unsurprisingly, Turkey has a dismal standing.

It ranks 149 out of 180 in terms of media freedom and it is the worst offender in Europe after Russia.

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  • Turkey: modern economy, regressive leaders (Photo: maistora)

The government's attitude towards the media outlets I have worked for has played a role.

On December 14 police raided the headquarters of Zaman daily, the biggest newspaper in Turkey, to arrest Ekrem Dumanli, my boss and the executive editor-in-chief. He was accused of leading an armed terrorist organisation, or, in other words, that he was a terrorist disguised for years as a journalist who poses an imminent threat to Turkey’s vital interests.

The same day, Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of the one of the most watched broadcasting groups, Samanyolu, turned himself to police to be questioned. The same accusation goes for him as well. Samanyoluhaber, which is one of the channels Karaca manages, sponsors a TV programme with members of the European Parliament since 2008.

It seems their arrests relate to a popular soap opera whose airing on Samanyolu ended five years ago.

The prosecutor argues that Fetullah Gulen, a Muslim scholar living in self-exile in the US, sent encoded messages to the Turkish police via this popular TV series to start an operation against a radical group called Tahsiyeciler.

It is true that a police operation was carried out against the group, which is well known for its sympathy with Al Qaeda and its founding leader Osama Bin Laden. However, the same Turkish authorities who hailed the operation five years ago now believe the group was intentionally targeted even though it was innocent.

Since the case against Karaca and Dumanli is such a farce, the European Parliament in January strongly condemned the Turkish government’s relentless efforts to silence opposition media.

The Council of Europe and many media organisations, including the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, have also called on Turkish authorities to stop demolishing media freedom.

Crackdown on critical journalists

Karaca and Dumanli are not the only victims of the recent crackdown on critical journalists.

A veteran TV journalist and producer, Sedef Kabas, tweeted about prosecutors who covered up corruption allegations on 17 December 2013. The prosecutors are now demanding that she be imprisoned for five years.

Another farcical case has been opened against Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink, who has lived in Diyarbakır since 2009.

The reason is - again - her tweets, which prosecutors use as evidence of spreading terrorist propaganda. While Geerdink is accused of making PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party) propaganda and risks five years in prison, the government is being praised - and rightly so - for continuing peace talks with the same group.

It surprised no one when Twitter announced a few days ago that Turkey is, by far, the leading country (with 663 requests in 2014) in asking the company to remove content from its website.

Erdogan on Twitter

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long borne a grudge against social media and Twitter in particular.

When the Gezi protests started in May 2013, Erdogan famously said: "There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society."

Then, last March, when he and his government were embroiled in the largest corruption scandal of Turkish Republic, he fought hard to gag twitter and was successful only temporarily.

“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” Erdogan said at a rally last year.

When the Constitutional Court decided against the ban, it also drew Erdogan’s ire. Accusing the Court of protecting a tool of foreign influence, Erdogan underlined that Twitter is the product of an American company.

It was a bit unexpected when the same Erdogan, all of a sudden, started using Twitter a few days ago to spread his anti-smoking messages.

Despite the international and national outcries about the state of media freedom, Erdogan is more brazen than ever. On his way to South America a few days ago, he claimed that Turkish journalists are freer than their colleagues in the US.

My boss, Dumanli, has been released pending trial. Karaca has been in prison since 14 December facing charges of leading an armed terrorist organisation.

It seems that I have been working for terrorists for quite a while in Brussels without being detected either by the EU or the Belgian authorities.

Selcuk Gultasli is the Brussels bureau chief of Zaman


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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