Turkish press crackdown distracts from corruption

The Turkish president Erdoğan ordered the arrest of several politically critical parties, including Turkey’s biggest paper’s editor-in-chief last Sunday.

Ekrem Dumanli Arrest

Zaman’s lead editor Ekrem Dumanli was arrested that afternoon. This sparked a number of protests from both employees and readers, and foreign editor Mustafa Edib Yilmaz was there to witness it all:

If they can do this to the editor-in-chief of the largest newspaper in this country, then only God knows what else they can do to the others.

Yilmaz: It all happened on Sunday very early in the morning, around 7 o’clock. Four or five police officers came to our building and they had a warrant to detain our editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli. There were already people outside, and also inside the building, protesting the operation. They were chanting slogans, raising flags, clapping hands and booing the entire raid.

So the police officers, after they got in the building, decided not to detain mister Dumanly in their first attempt, only to come back later, 5 or 6 hours later, in the afternoon. This time, in the second attempt, they detained Dumanli. Of course, under significant protest from our colleagues, who are working for this newspaper and who have come from outside in solidarity to the newspaper. Also under protest from readers, and others who have come to support the newspaper over here.

Why did they do this?

This is a particularly sensitive time in Turkey. Now, we are approaching the first anniversary of two massive corruption investigations, that were lost December last year. During this time people are oriented towards talking and worrying about corruption. So, I think it is an attempt on the part of the government to distract people’s attention away from corruption and to this operation. The government let by mister Erdoğan of the Turkish Republic want the people to speak about this operation and not of corruption.

What does this mean for journalists in Turkey?

It is a clear attempt to intimidate all of us. Not only our newspaper, not only mister Dumanly, but everybody else who is working in this field as a journalist. Because if they can do this to the editor-in-chief of the largest newspaper in this country, than only God knows what else they can do to the others. We are now showing a collective front to this unfounded operation. But there are smaller newspapers; they cannot help us, they cannot do as much as we can do to challenge this illegality and lawlessness.

What will happen to those who were arrested, including your editor-in-chief?

He’s in jail, he is in custody. He’s going to answer the questions of the prosecutor and after that a court will decide if he is going to be arrested or released pending trial. Of course the prosecutor also can release him without any charges attached. So there are three options.

Where do you stand in this issue between state control and media freedom?

Well obviously, this day today is a very dark day for Turkey in the field of freedom of the press. Detaining journalists on such unfounded charges, ranging from plotting against the government to being and forming a terrorist organization, which makes no sense outside the borders of this country. This is totally running against the idea, the very foundation, of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It is an intimidation attempt to everybody in this country to not express their ideas freely, to not express their opposition freely to this government or the next, because it is coming from the authorities.

At the moment the Turkish government has not given any further information on the arrests, but it has been informed by both the United States and the European Union that it is being closely watched regarding the issue.

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Written by Jeroen de Vries

Interview by Radost Gospodinova & Jeroen de Vries

Transcribed by Céline Cornelis & Jeroen de Vries

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