Gov’t, president using all state means to suppress media: Kılıçdaroğlu
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA/HATAY
AA PhotoPresident Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government are using all state means to put pressure on the media, the head of Turkey’s main opposition party has said, describing this oppression as having three main legs: The judiciary, the Finance Ministry, and calls to boycott dissident newspapers.
“There is no press freedom in Turkey. There is an intense pressure put on the media by both the president and the government. They impose this pressure through the judiciary, which sentences journalists one-by-one to imprisonment. The second means is to use the Finance Ministry, which issues fines for media institutions. The third means is to make calls on the readers to boycott certain newspapers. They therefore keep the media under three-way pressure,” Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News on June 4 during his campaign stop in Hatay, a province on the Syrian border.
“How can you instruct people not to buy certain newspapers? Who are you?” said Kılıçdaroğlu, referring to the strong-worded criticisms of Erdoğan and senior government officials against media groups whose coverage they disliked. “This pressure is not imposed through a single channel but through all channels and using all state means.”
Turkey’s place in the global indexes of free press has been in constant decline in recent years, with more journalists facing severe judicial processes on charges of insulting the president or of reporting issues deemed to violate the principle of state secrecy. Turkey’s leaders frequently lash out at prominent international media institutions like the New York Times, CNN and the BBC while slamming international organizations for trying to weaken Turkey when they raise their concerns over undemocratic developments in the country.
‘AKP wants to break ties with EU’
Drawing attention to the fact that restrictions on freedom of expression, as well as other fundamental freedoms and rights, have a negative effect on Turkey-EU relations, Kılıçdaroğlu called on European leaders to be aware of the ruling party’s “real intentions.”
“The EU should not freeze negotiations with Turkey. On the contrary, it should even make concessions toward Turkey if necessary, because the purpose of the AKP is not to make Turkey a member of the EU, but to detach from it. This is very dangerous. It’s doing everything it can to break away from the EU, although it tries to appear as if it’s pro-EU. The EU does not accept pressure on the media, but the AKP imposes pressure on it. An independent judiciary and the principle of separation of powers are fundamental values of the EU but the government violates all of them. All the values that the EU cares about like democracy, freedom, and justice are being eliminated by the government,” he said.
The CHP leader also accused the Foreign Ministry and its officials of protecting the interests of the government at the expense of ignoring the interests of the state. “Instead of explaining Turkey, they are using the rhetoric of the government in their meetings with interlocutors. It’s very unfortunate that the bureaucracy of the Foreign Ministry has come to this point as well,” he said.
‘Turkey has the outlook of a pirate state’
Turkey’s deteriorating image is not limited to its poor democracy but also because of its controversial foreign policy, Kılıçdaroğlu also stressed, saying it was “caught red-handed” supplying weapons to radical Islamic militants in Syria.
“I hope the relevant parties will not now accuse and describe Turkey as a country providing weapons to radical Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq ... Turkey is in a dire position on this. This picture has made Turkey look like a pirate state in the region, like a country that does not recognize international law or rules and does what it wants,” he said, describing the government’s Syria policy as based upon a “fantasy.”
‘Sleeper cells’ in Turkey
Besides the fact that the government is providing support to radical groups beyond its borders, Kılıçdaroğlu claimed that these groups had “sleeper cells” in Turkey, particularly located in Gaziantep, a southeastern town on the Syrian border, Konya, a central Anatolian town and the capital Ankara.
“Sad to say, but these groups have sleeper cells in the country. Not just sleeper cells, they have open publications and camps for training. Turkey cannot take an open stance against ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant]. It cannot even declare it a terror organization, because it hesitates. It is concerned that [ISIL] could cause major damage through a bombing or an attack targeting civilians,” he said.
‘Parallel state a product of government’
Another hot topic on Turkey’s pre-election agenda is the government’s fierce fight against the Fethullah Gülen movement, described as a “parallel structure” within state institutions. Senior government officials have repeatedly accused the CHP of being in cooperation with the group.
Kılıçdaroğlu said some public servants could have links to religious communities and sects but this does not amount to forming an independent and “parallel” structure within the bureaucracy.
“If these public servants can establish a parallel state and act accordingly, then we should ask this: Who helped them form this structure? Let me openly say: No religious community or sect could form such a thing within the state without the support of the government,” he stressed.
“There cannot be a parallel structure within the state. Who allowed this? The government itself. This is what I am saying,” he added, recalling that the government and the Gülen movement were in close cooperation until recently.
“The question to be posed is this: Why did they break apart? What was the source of disagreement between the two that led to Dec. 17 and 25 [corruption probe] incidents? This is not clear yet,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.