SHAFAQNA- The editor-in-chief of Turkey’s best-selling daily, after being released pending trial in a government-orchestrated police operation, has vowed that the Zaman daily will continue to challenge the government’s pressure over the media.
“The media will not keep mum. If the media remains silent, the Zaman daily will not,” Ekrem Dumanlı, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, told the crowd gathered in front of the İstanbul Courthouse on Friday.
Four of the 12 suspects who were referred to court for arrest as part of the operation to silence the media were arrested on charges of terrorism, one of whom is a top-level media executive.
Dumanlı, who was released pending trial together with seven police officers by a court designed by the government following two major graft probes last December, is charged with forming and leading an armed terrorist organization.
Addressing the crowd in front of the courthouse in Çağlayan in İstanbul, Dumanlı underlined that those who have violated justice to accuse innocent people based on several news items and a popular television serial would be called to account in the future. “There is no escape!” he said.
He called on everyone to offer their support to the media against government pressure, noting that no one in Turkey is safe.
As part of an intensified government campaign of cracking down on critical and independent media outlets, Zaman’s Dumanlı was charged with being a member of a terrorist organization based on two op-ed pieces and one article published in his newspaper five years ago.
Noting that the judge had confirmed during the hearing that he had been accused based on the two op-eds and a news report that were published in the Zaman daily, he expressed his protest, saying, “How is it possible to infer based on that that a terrorist organization exists?”
Dumanlı’s speech was interrupted from time to time by slogans by the thousands of people gathered in front of the courthouse in a show of support. “Turkey is proud of you,” the crowd shouted.
Dumanlı, who described the case against the media as fictional without any foundation, challengingly said, “We have not been engaged in any illegal action; that’s why we will not bow to tyrants.”
The word tyrant is an obvious reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, although Dumanlı did not utter Erdoğan’s name during his speech.
Dumanlı, who was released on the condition that he does not leave the country, stressed that he would not be intimidated by the accusations.
“To be frank, they [government] believe they can intimidate us through [such] operations; we are not afraid of anyone other than God,” he said.
Following the two major graft probes on Dec. 17 and 25 last year, four cabinet ministers were forced to leave their posts. President Erdoğan and some of his family members are also allegedly involved in corruption.
In a clear reference to claims of widespread corruption in the government, Dumanlı said: “It is thieves, those who are involved in corruption who fear. Those who are not guilty do not fear.”
Dumanlı said the police operation was designed in an effort to conceal the corruption the government was involved.
Describing the step as an operation aimed at creating a negative perception, Dumanlı said, “I was accused of being part of a terrorist organization without any solid evidence.”
“I return the accusation to those who call me a member of a terrorist organization,” he added.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentary group Deputy Chairman Akif Hamzaçebi has blasted the police operation against the media, saying, “This is a coup on freedom of the media.”
Describing the operation as a previously designed plot, Hamzaçebi said at a press conference in Parliament on Friday, “This is a mentality which considers [journalists’] pen as a weapon.”
Dumanlı also called on police officers and members of the judiciary not to take any steps that would make them and their friends and family feel ashamed in the future. “Serve as civil servants, not as subjects of tyrants!” he said.
Dumanlı’s release came the same day that his wife gave birth to a baby girl.
Ertan Erçıktı, Tufan Ergüder and Mustafa Kılıçarslan are the three police officers who were arrested pending trial in addition to Hidayet Karaca, the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group general manager.
Dumanlı was asked during the judicial process why he had published two columns in the paper that were written by two contributors and one news story that featured a speech made by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Dumanlı had responded to the charges by saying he has been professionally managing the newspaper for the last 13 years and cannot interfere with critical articles written by columnists that are regular contributors to the paper. He said columnists have the right to freedom of speech and expression.
As for the news story in 2009 which featured a warning by Gülen about the activities of the al-Qaeda-affiliated armed Tahşiyeciler (Annotators) group, Dumanlı said Gülen’s public speech was posted on the Islamic scholar’s own website — Herkul.org — and carried newsworthy items that deserved coverage on the relevant page in the newspaper. He said other newspapers, such as the Hürriyet and Vatan dailies, also covered Gülen’s speech.
He noted that Zaman receives between 5,000 to 8,000 articles and wire dispatches on a daily basis and that its editors screen them and direct them to the relevant sections in the paper. He emphasized that as editor-in-chief, he focuses mostly on the layout and content of the first page, delegating the authority for other pages to the editors in different sections, just as is done in other newspapers.
“I did not consider Gülen’s speech, which was featured on page three, as worthy of being introduced on the first page,” Dumanlı said.
The editor-in-chief further noted that op-ed page editors have the freedom to publish contributors’ pieces based on their own judgment and that they do not necessarily ask his approval in advance. He said he does not recall the articles of Hüseyin Gülerce and Ahmet Şahin, both of whom wrote articles critical of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Tahşiyeciler group back in 2009, but underlined that op-ed editors usually seek the opinion of the newspaper’s legal department if they suspect that an article may violate the law.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said before the court announced its verdict on Friday that the suspects should be released by the court pending trial.
“I believe it would be more proper to release them pending trial,” Arınç told reporters in Ankara following a visit to the Free Cause Party (Hüda-Par), a pro-Kurdish/radical Islamist party.
Noting that people should be held under arrest only in exceptional cases while they are being tried in a legal case, the deputy prime minister said individuals should as a rule be released pending trial if there is no risk of the suspects covering up evidence if released.
In his remarks, Arınç also drew attention to the fact that Dumanlı and Karaca were being charged in connection with some columns, a news report and a television serial previously published or broadcasted years ago, something that they have no chance of tampering with.
Nuh Gönültaş, a columnist who is one of the 31 suspects for whom an arrest warrant was issued as part of the operation, was released on Friday after giving his testimony early the same day.
Gönültaş, a columnist in the Bugün daily, told reporters in front of the İstanbul Courthouse that he was asked by the prosecutor if some people had suggested that he write on a certain topic in his column five years ago.
He said his answer was: “No suggestion is ever made [in this sense] to columnists [in my daily].”
Gönültaş, who left Turkey for Russia for a previously planned visit the night before the police operation, is the last person to give a statement as part of the operation.
The government has been greatly criticized for the timing of the operation, as it came right before the anniversary of the graft probes. Opposition parties have said the government aims to divert the public’s attention away from allegations of corruption.