Oda TV raid renews fears of media witch hunt in Turkey
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 2/15/2011 12:00:00 AM | İZGİ GÜNGÖR
Searches and detentions carried out against Internet-based news portal Oda TV on Monday were an effort to intimidate government critics, Turkish journalists have said.
Press organizations and journalists have reacted harshly against a police raid on the headquarters of Oda TV, a website that is known for being a fierce critic of government policies.
The website's office in Istanbul and the home of Soner Yalçın, a well-known journalist who runs the site, was searched for nearly half a day on Monday by security forces. Yalcin and three other journalists are currently in custody on suspicions of alleged links to the Ergenekon gang.
Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, journalists said the move is "an effort to intimidate" and apply political pressure against government critics.
“Oda TV's line is obvious. It is a staunch critic of the government. The operations [against it] are ideological and a reflection of political pressure against [government] dissidents,” Ahmet Abakay, president of the Contemporary Journalists Association, or ÇGD, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
“This new wave of arrests is ... a threat not only to Oda TV but to all media members and will likely result in self-censorship [of future criticism of the government],” Abakay said.
The police raid of the news website, a fierce critic of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, further fueled debate on freedom of the press in Turkey amid the ongoing detention of journalists Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, both critics of the government who have been accused of having links with the alleged Ergenekon gang. Their detention is being interpreted by many circles as the political suppression of dissidents by the AKP.
On Monday, police raided the Istanbul headquarters of the web portal, the house of Soner Yalçın, a daily Hürriyet columnist and the founder of Oda TV, and the homes of the website’s editors, also taking them into custody based on suspected links to the same gang.
According to Oda TV, the move came hours after the web portal posted a video claiming that police investigating the Ergenekon case are trained by Americans and that the ammunition found in Ankara’s Zir Valley during the investigation was planted by police. ÇGD President Abakay likewise attributed political motives to the timing of the raids, saying they came after the government launched a series of initiatives to reshape and politicize the judiciary.
The operations reflect political pressure against media, said Press Council Chairman Orhan Birgit. The council wrote on its website that the move appeared to be an extension of the existing intolerance toward critical broadcasts and created an impression that the operations took place against the activities of a media organization that often opposes the government.
Nazlı Ilıcak, a columnist for pro-government daily Sabah, described the move as “impertinence” in her column Monday. “While there is a widespread belief that the ruling party is threatening its opponents using the Ergenekon case, the raid of Oda TV is a wrong implementation,” Ilıcak wrote.
“Oda TV is a dissident Internet site that belongs to Soner Yalçın. Let’s assume that it has or had links with the Ergenekon gang. The Ergenekon probe started in 2007. Do those who conducted the raid think that Ergenekon documents have been stored at Oda TV since 2007?” she asked.
The Ergenekon case started in June 2007 with the discovery of 27 hand grenades in a shanty house belonging to a retired noncommissioned officer. The finding has led to scores of arrests and put nearly 200 journalists, writers, military personnel, gang leaders, scholars, businessmen and politicians in detention. In the later stages of the investigation, those in custody have been accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup, initially by spreading chaos and mayhem.
[HH] ‘Move a violation of press freedom’
The raids violated the freedom of the press, said Ercan İpekçi, president of the Turkish Journalists Union, or TGS. “I have difficulty understanding the reason behind the operation. It is the duty of journalists to disclose the truth to the public and Oda TV’s activities are no more than that,” İpekçi said.
“Freedom of the press is safeguarded by the Constitution and the European Court of Human Rights. But the move contradicts with what both have said about freedom of the press,” he added. “What journalists do is create discussion and offer readers a different point of view on topics. They lack the power to influence the judiciary with their pens; it is those who hold the sources of public opinion that have the power to affect the judiciary with their statements.”
Cüneyt Özdemir, a columnist for daily Radikal and a former partner of Yalçın in his old TV business, also criticized the raid on Oda TV. “If [authorities] arrest Soner Yalçın or others and raid their homes and offices just because [they are] uncomfortable with their journalism, or if one stays silent about all these raids because one is scared to death, then shame on all of us,” Özdemir wrote Tuesday.