From democrat to autocrat: NATO ally turns back on group’s ideals

December 22, 2014


Police stage a dawn raid on a large-circulation newspaper armed with warrants to take the editor-in-chief into custody. There can be no image quite so potent of a government that has lost its democratic legitimacy or one that has something to hide. It’s happened in Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, and Somaliland. Last Sunday, it happened in Turkey.

Turkey already has an inglorious record on press freedom. A Washington-based democracy watchdog this year demoted the country from being “partly free” to “not free.” Organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalist or Reporters Without Frontiers point to the high number of journalists in pre-trial detention. Turkey slugs it out with China for the dubious title of the world’s most prolific jailer of journalists.

Yet even more chilling than overt coercion is the way the government controls the press with the collusion of media proprietors. Many bosses regard their press empires simply as political protection for their real businesses, like construction or property development, which require government grace and favor. Editors are under orders not to hold their rulers accountable but to give them a smooth ride. This means that the flow of news in Turkey is tightly controlled and that journalists are hired, but mainly fired, on political whim.

There is an oppositional press, but it is tolerated as long as it preaches to its own  choir of people who would never consider voting for the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party.  The government, in turn,  is careful to protect its own constituency from the pollution of dissenting opinion. State television has even cut opposition leaders off in mid-sentence when they proffered criticism or accusations of high-level corruption. Social media presents a particular challenge. In the run up to local elections last March the government temporarily succeeded in banning YouTube and Twitter.

The result is that the Turkish media has served not to heal but to deepen social divisions. When he came first came to power as prime minister in 2003, Tayyip Erdogan appeared to cultivate the centre ground – arguing for example that women should be able to wear headscarves in public life not as an obligation but a democratic right. Well before ascending to the presidency  last August,  Erdogan appeared to delight in cultivating extremes. He vilified environmental protesters in Gezi Park as people trying to overthrow the government and, more recently, has explained why women can never be equal to men.

Where there is polarization there is no dialogue.  Government strategy has been to divide and misrule.

Even then, that the public prosecutor should have moved so openly against the Zaman newspaper group and the affiliated Samanyolu television station presents a new and disturbing escalation of the government’s highly developed sense of impunity.

The media organizations are linked to a religious movement whose spiritual leader, Fethullah Gulen, lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. For over a decade, the group gave close support to Erdogan’s AK Party.  However, the Gulenists began to split with the government and just one year ago police and prosecutors believed to have Gulenists loyalties staged a series of spectacular anti-corruption raids, detaining sons of government ministers and seizing millions of euros’ worth of cash from their homes.

Those year-old charges have all been dropped and the police and judicial system purged. The pro-government media now depicts the raids as nothing short of an attempted coup d’état. The very word Pennsylvania has become synonymous in the pro-government press with an underground state running “in parallel” to the elected government.

On Friday, Ekrem Dumanli, Zaman’s editor was released although the case against him continues. Hidayet Karaca, the head of Samanyolu media group is one of four of the initial two-dozen suspects still detained.

Such cavalier regard for freedom of expression and the rule of law makes Turkey appear to be some faraway outpost. But it is a country at the heart of Western concerns. It is about to assume the chairmanship of the G20 and to lead that organization’s fight against corruption. It is a member of NATO. If there will ever be peace in Syria then Turkey must play a role. Turkey still aspires to join the European Union.

Yet after witnessing journalists be led away in squad cars, a statement from the European commission openly questioned Turkey’s commitment to a free press and European values and standards.. Turkey is a country vital to the defense of the free-world. It does itself no good to play on the other side.


PHOTO: People take part in a protest against the Turkish Government for issuing an arrest warrant for U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen in the Manhattan borough of New York, Dec. 20, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

There is a new democracy being born in Eastern Europe: Ukraine. Hence, here comes the most logical swap…

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

Turkey should just adopt the US model for media control. Simply put all media in the hands of a few wealthy people and then let them use their creativity to make the citizens think they are getting the truth. Besides, in the US it has always been the wealthy land owners that were supposed to be the rulers. It was never intended that everyone else have rights, the bill of rights is simply for the 1%.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Whoa, Turkey sounds mighty similar to the US. Well, the US is slightly better in that we don’t arrest the journalists, but we’re worse in that every single op-ed newspaper are all bought up by the 2 big parties which are basically the same thing in reality.

Posted by cyu | Report as abusive

The article does not really tell why these people were taken in for questioning except for cashing in on a simplistic accusation of Ivan the terrible of Turkey sticking it to them for doctored up old rivalry.

The said journalists were taken in not because they were practicing their profession such as criticizing Erdogan. In fact they have been doing it incessantly for years since 2008 untouched.

The 27 of 31 suspects charged by the prosecutor were taken in for interrogation for masterminding and executing in 2010 a step-by-step plot against a religious group, “dubbed as Tahsiyeciler by Fethullah Gulen” rivaling and criticizing the Gulen Group and his teachings. Thru the adherents of the Gulen Group within the security forces, the media branch, and the affiliated prosecutors and judges in the judiciary, The Tahsiyeciler were framed by slanders, falsification of documents and violating legal procedures, and manufacturing evidence and planting arms in their quarters to accuse the rivaling Tahsiyeciler as a terrorist organization. (The confiscated arms were registered previously as evidence in two other unrelated cases that had ultimately sentenced the military officers for attempted coups). The media-police-judiciary gang of plotters later claimed that the Tahsiyeciler had ties to Al-Qaeda. 122 members of the group were prosecuted and together with their leader a 66 year old legally blind cleric with no offensive record to date some 40 of them were jailed for 17 months without trial, and then released for lack of more solid evidence.

The Tahsiyeciler head cleric at the end of his jail service filed a counter charge. The non-Gulenist prosecutors discovered sufficient evidence to the credit of the counter charge. The “journalism heroes” and 3 ex higher up Gulenist police chiefs of the anti-Terrorism units then orchestrating the arrests of the Tahsiyeciler group were taken in for interrogation to uncover a suspected setup of the Tahsiyeciler case.

This is not a political issue as it is intended to be made into, but a criminal issue.

As of two days ago, 18 appeared before the judge, 12 were indicted. Of the 12, 8 were released under judicial control to be tried without detention including the editor in chief of the Zaman newspaper. 4 were detained for trial under custody; 1 of them the the director of the Gulenist TV, and 3 Gulenist ex police chiefs of the anti-terrorism division of the Security department at the time of the setup against the Tahsiyeciler group. No journalist remains under custody.

Finally, one must answer the questions of what to do about the rights of the 40 inconvenienced Tahsiyeciler group members who served jail for 17 months without indictement and of who were responsible for this setup: Gulen who described in his sermon in Jan of 2010 a c/overt scenario to incriminate a rival religious group called Tahsiyeciler? The editor in chief of Zaman and others who started then to falsely accuse the Tahsiyeciler in their columns? passing the ball to the TV station, in their drama series targeting the Tahsiyeciler? and then onto the prosecutors upon a unanimous complaint about the Tahsiyeciler? and then to the judges? of their clan. Almost like in the movies but real in life!

Let justice run its course in Turkey now. And, in turn, Americans and the Europeans should mind the actions and deeds of their own police and prosecutors and judicial system recent! No professionals, no citizens are untouchable when it comes to crime and justice under due process of law, in a democracy!

On the other hand Reuters should serve the public fairly by not publishing single-sidedly articles which are devoid of the essence and the underlying truths of the matter in a self-serving and tabloid manner.

Posted by BarisSeven | Report as abusive

It is remarkable that a writer who claims he has spent 26 years in Turkey watches the Turkish political scene from his ivory tower, and be sooo out of touch with the core struggle on the ground of the Turkish democracy against the deeds of a criminal network of Gulen gangs in the media, security forces, judicial branch, telecommunication services, the military, and strategic state institutions of Turkey.

The networked gangs’ ultimate goal is/was to castrate the whole system allegedly to establish their Islamic State based on Sharia, Gulen being the Caliph or Khomeni like figure-head a la Iran in form but with a much more radical and fundamentalist religious/cultish doctrine of theirs with no regard for other religious groups.

Keep it up Mr. Finkel, what will you write about as the other dimensions of their deeds are uncovered and followed up for criminal prosecution, as you will by then have consumed all of your one-sided arguments and views about Turkish democracy? You should at least, expose what the pro-government media are saying about this struggle and the gangs to even up your articles fed and saturated by the anti-government media rhetoric, in the name of fair and balanced tabloid journalism!

Posted by BarisSeven | Report as abusive

It is almost as difficult to get unbiased media reports in the US. No longer are we given “just the facts” and then make an informed decision – we get what the administration wants us to get and little facts.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

NATO has “ideals”? Who knew.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive