Just days before Turkey’s November 1, 2015 general election, the Turkish government, presided over by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is taking exceptional measures to silence critical media and crack down on perceived opponents. Not since the days of the 1980 military coup have there been such dramatic moves to close down and prevent scrutiny of power.
Wednesday morning saw police raid the building of the İpek media group’s Bugün TV and Kanaltürk stations, among the few channels critical of the government. Images from the raid resembled the storming of a medieval castle.
Bugün TV broadcast Wednesday morning’s scenes of riot police forcing their way through the sliding doors after using teargas and water cannons on people assembled outside, and bringing with them firefighters to cut through the outer iron gates. After police pulled the live-feed cables on most cameras outside, dramatic live broadcasts from inside the building continued, and Tarık Toros, the head of broadcasting in the TV station’s central control room, was seen preventing moves to switch off the broadcast. At the time of writing, broadcasts were continuing from the station’s central control room.
The channels are owned by the Ipek media group that includes Bugün and Millet newspapers and is part of the Koza Ipek group of companies. The government alleges the group is supportive of United States-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, the head of a religious movement subject to an unprecedented crackdown in Turkey.
On October 26, a court in Ankara ruled that the Koza İpek group should be taken over, and it appointed a government-controlled trustee panel to administer the board. It amounts to a government takeover of the media group.
The court justified the decision in a statement, calling it necessary “to prevent crime and to protect evidence.” The order says that the group is linked to an alleged coup plot by what prosecutors term the “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization.”
The holding group has been the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office for financing terrorism since the beginning of September. To date, the prosecutor has produced no evidence in public to support the claim that the Koza İpek group has committed any crime that merits the decision to appoint a trustee panel to run the company, let alone that the group has committed terrorism crimes and attempted by force to overthrow the government.
Today’s attempt to muzzle critical media in Turkey and effectively seize control of a private company without providing any evidence of criminal wrongdoing demonstrates deep contempt for human rights.