Reports that authorities in Turkey this morning raided offices of the corporate owner of two opposition broadcasters, and that a magistrate has approved a similar raid on the broadcasters themselves, are ‘extremely troubling’, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.
Turkish media reported that agents from Turkey’s Financial Crime Investigation Board (MASAK) raided the Ankara offices of 23 companies owned by Koza İpek for allegedly “giving financial support to the Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) and conducting its propaganda”.
“We are extremely troubled by today’s news, which follows claims of an impending crackdown on news media outlets ahead of the Nov. 1 election,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. “These raids appear to be an attempt to pressure Koza İpek to induce self-censorship in its media holdings. Coupled with the recent bringing of terrorism charges against two British journalists reporting on clashes in southeast Turkey between government forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), they seem to be the latest steps in a broad campaign to intimidate and silence critical journalism.”
He added: “Turkey desperately needs not only reform of anti-terror laws, but recognition and respect by authorities for the absolutely vital role of free, independent media in a democracy.”
Ellis noted that IPI, in recommendations accompanying a special report issued in March, specifically called on Turkey’s government to end its use of financial regulatory agencies to pressure media outlets via raids such as those seen this morning.The report is available in English as well as inTurkish.
Koza İpek – which is active in media, energy and mining sectors – is reportedly linked to the movement headed by Muslim cleric and former Justice and Development Party (AKP) ally Fethullah Gülen. The government has pursued terrorism allegations against Gülen in the wake of wide-ranging, but since-suppressed, 2013 graft probe targeting a number of AKP lawmakers. AKP leaders argue the probe was a “coup” attempt based on fabricated evidence.
The company owns the Bugün and Millet newspapers, as well as the Kanaltürk and Bugün television stations. Local sources said those broadcasters were also targeted to be raided under a magistrate’s ruling approving the operation against Koza İpek.
Today’s raids appeared to support claims posted on Twitter last week by whistleblower Fuat Avni, who alleged that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had approved a widescale crackdown on opposition media ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election.
Erdoğan called the election last month after negotiations stalled on forming a new government in the wake of a June election in which the AKP failed to win enough seats to retain its parliamentary majority.
IPI today also called on Turkey to immediately free British journalists Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, as well as a Turkish fixer who was assisting them. The three were arrested last week in Diyarbakır as they filmed clashes between government forces and the PKK, which the United States, the EU and Turkey label a terrorist organisation.
However, a court yesterday ordered them to face charges for “engaging in terror activity” on behalf of the Islamic State group and for “intentionally aiding an armed organisation”.
Ellis said today that “these charges are completely absurd and should be dropped immediately”.