Update: After the police had taken control of the Ipek Media Group building, government-appointed administrators suspended broadcasting by Bugün TV and Kanaltürk and suspended publication of the dailies Bugün and Millet. They also fired Bugün TV news editor Tarik Toros and Bugün editor Erhan Basyurt. At least six journalists were manhandled and briefly detained during the operation.
Reporters Without Borders condemns an all-out government offensive against a media group whose parent company, Koza Ipek Holding, is owned by an ally of Fethullah Gülen, an influential Muslim preacher who once backed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is now one of his bitterest rivals and enemies.
Police stormed the Ipek Media Group’s headquarters in Istanbul at dawn today, disconnecting the signal of one of its TV stations, Kanaltürk, and trying to cut the signal of another, Bugün TV.
With just days to go to key parliamentary elections on 1 November, the government has been stepping up its harassment of opposition media and companies including Koza Ipek Holding, which owns a total of 21 companies including the Ipek Media Group’s three TV stations (Bugün TV, Kanaltürk and Samanyolu Haber) and two dailies (Bugün and Millet).
Violent police raid
Today’s raid began at around 4:30 a.m., when riot police took up position outside Ipek Media Group headquarters in the Istanbul district of Mecidiyeköy. Three hours later, they broke down the outer gates and used teargas and water cannons against the hundreds of demonstrators and journalists trying to block their way.
Today’s Zaman editor Bülent Kenes, who had gone there in a show of solidarity with the Ipek Media Group, was roughed up and Kamil Maman, a Bugün reporter, was briefly detained.
Shortly after 9 a.m., the police ripped out the cables of TV cameras at the scene in an attempt to interrupt live coverage of the operation. They then disconnected the Kanaltürk signal and tried to do the same with Bugün’s but news director Tarik Toros refused to cooperate and journalists blocked their access to its control centre.
“The persecution of critical media outlets has reached an extremely worrying level before the elections,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk.
“The government’s determination to silence the Ipek Media Group’s outlets is just the latest example. We again call on the authorities to end this persecution and to allow the media to do their work in accordance with Turkey’s constitution and its international obligations.”
Under government control
The raid came two days after a controversial court order placing Koza Ipek Holding under government control as part of a judicial investigation into alleged “terrorism funding and propaganda.”
The “terrorist organization” that the holding allegedly assisted is none other than the movement founded by Fethullah Gülen, which is now outlawed. Most of the temporary administrators appointed by the court to replace the holding’s board of governors are members or supporters of the ruling AKP party.
Koza Ipek Holding has been at the centre of a storm for months. Its headquarters were raided twice, in August and September, and then an arrest warrant was issued for the chairman of its board, Hamdi Akin Ipek.
“If we had agreed to be part of the pro-government] media pool, things would not have turned out as they have,” he said on 25 October.
Bugün TV, Kanaltürk and Samanyolu Haber were among the seven TV stations that [were dropped by the main cable and satellite TV operators in mid-October in response to a court order.
Turkey is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Reporters Without Borders took part in a joint field visit with seven other international and local NGOs from 19 to 21 October to emphasize the gravity of the situation.
(Photos: Usame Ari / Zaman Daily / AFP)