Foreign Ministry bans media critical of Turkish government

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On November 11, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs stopped sending official statements via e-mail and text message to a myriad of alleged anti-government websites, including Today’s Zaman, Zaman, and Cihan. The move was initially made to exclude the aforementioned media agencies on November 3. During a November 4 press conference held by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic, an event in which the Foreign Ministry neglected to invite a myriad of media outlets, journalists from both Zaman and Cihan were stopped from attending the event by local security personnel. A similar incident occurred just one day earlier when journalists from Zaman, Ipek, and Samanyolu were preventing from entering the Prime Minister’s office for a press briefing with Deputy PM Bulent Arinc.

Meanwhile, the Istanbul Bakirkoy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office filed a criminal lawsuit yesterday against Harun Cumen, managing editor and legal representative of Zaman, Turkey’s largest daily newspaper. The lawsuit, which requests Cumen to be sentenced to 17 years in prison, is being filed due to a series of articles pertaining to opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s recent Parliamentary speech regarding government corruption. By covering Kilicdaroglu’s remarks in Zaman, the lawsuit claims that Cumen disclosed an alleged phone call between President Erdogan and his son, which in turn is being perceived as a violation of confidentiality and privacy. Cumen is also being charged with membership in an illegal organization; however, the name of the organization was not included in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit at its core is a critical reminder of a large-scale corruption investigation against senior AKP officials which was launched in December 2013 in which voice recordings of such figures and their children, amongst them Erdogan and his son, were leaked by anonymous civic activists. The investigation catalyzed large-scale protests throughout the country for several months, as well as increasingly harsher judicial tactics from the Turkish government. While an initial investigation into Cumen was dropped in May over a lack of legal grounds presented by President Erdogan’s lawyers, the 2nd Penal Court of Peace in Istanbul reversed its decision in a controversial judicial move recently to allow for the court to decide on the validity of the prosecution’s collection of evidence.

In his defense, Cumen has stressed that nearly every Turkish newspaper reported on the leaked phone conversations and that the charges brought against him have no merit. “This is an arbitrary legal action to intimidate free press. Reporting statements made by the main opposition party leader in Parliament about events that have implications for the public is just a routine job of the press media.”

In addition to Cumen, well-known Turkish journalist Mehmet Baransu was indicted today in the Anatolia Courthouse for “insulting and blackmailing President Erdogan via Twitter.” According to court documents, Baransu shared several tweets insulting Erdogan while he was prime minister, actions which could land Baransu in jail for a period of up to 7 years in prison. Prior to his indictment, Baransu was arrested on August 9 while reporting on a government-led operation against rogue policemen. After the incident, he shared photos on Twitter of his bruised arms, which he claims were caused by police brutality.

The targeting of Baransu by Anatolian prosecutors is far from new. In March, an audio recording was leaked on YouTube which detailed a discussion between former Interior Minister Efdkan Ala and former Istanbul Governor Huseiyn Avni Mutlu in which the two discuss ordering a raid on Baransu’s house and arresting him for publishing state documents related to the December 17 state corruption investigation.

In response to the judicial aggression being imposed upon Cumen and Baransu, the Turkish Journalists Federation (TJF) criticized the government’s historically unprecedented crackdown on independent media. TJF Chairman Atilla Sertel explained in a press release, “This judicial proceeding is itself an action of intimidating press… If an individual, a party chairman speaks to the public, this naturally becomes a topic for a news report. How could it be deemed an unlawful act? Can there be such a non-sense? If they [the government] want to get rid of dissident reporters then let the government have all the dissidents executed.”

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