Just days before elections, the agenda in Turkey has switched to the Koza Ipek media group after it was raided for allegedly supporting a terrorist group. Aram Duran reports from Istanbul.
The Ipek Media Group - known for its ties to Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen's Hizmet movement - was raided on Wednesday by police, accompanied by trustees appointed to replace the group's management. The raid, conducted under the pretense that the Koza Ipek Holding has engaged in "money laundering and aiding a terrorist organization" has paved the way for another press freedom crisis in Turkey just days before the election.
Koza Ipek Holding insists that the move represents a ploy by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to silence the opposition while a number of press organizations have reacted to the seizure of 22 subsidiaries belonging to the company.
The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and People's Democratic Party (HDP) sent messages of support via their respective visits to the group's headquarters in Istanbul. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, while speaking on a television program, commented on the raids, saying that there was an ongoing investigation and that everyone would have to wait for its outcome.
Reactions from around the world streamed in as the Istanbul and Ankara offices of the Ipek Media Group - which operates the Kanaltürk TV channel and the Bugün and Millet daily newspapers - were searched by police. TV broadcasts were cut by government officials.
"When there is a reduction in the range of viewpoints available to citizens, especially before an election, it is a matter of concern," said the Embassy of the United States in Ankara in a tweet on Tuesday. Protesting the decision to appoint a board of trustees to replace the company's administration, hundreds of protesters assembled outside company offices beginning on Tuesday. Police deployed tear gas against the demonstrators.
"The appointed trustees are from the [pro-government] Sabah-ATV media group, and they've brought devices from ATV. We have learned that they intend to broadcast pro-government content. We are racing against time," said Bugün TV Editor-in-Chief Tarik Toros. "At the moment our building is under martial law," Toros added. The editor-in-chief was later taken into custody on Wednesday. Toros had warned that the Kanaltürk and Bugün TV networks were in danger of being taken off the air, which also occurred later that day.
Lawyer Turgut Kazan told DW that since a constitutional referendum in 2010, Turkey has become "a country with no interest in the rule of law." Kazan said that following the rupture of the AKP-Gülen relationship - which collapsed after the latter was widely believed to have launched the major corruption investigation that implicated party figures on December 17, 2013 - the government is going after the movement using tactics with an utter disregard for the rule of law.
"At the moment the chief prosecutors and the judges are working for the [presidential] Palace. This is why it is meaningless to discuss whether or not the Ipek Koza raid was lawful," Kazan said, adding that any broadcaster, institution or company that is not to the liking of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be similarly threatened.
"The prosecutors must have been presented with some strong evidence," said lawyer Fikret Ilkiz. "However, press outlets cannot be managed by a board of caretaker trustees. In order not to harm the right to information, this process needs to be sped up."
Ilkiz said that the appointment of the trustees should be done in order to protect the rights of the company's workers, but that this was not the case in the present situation. "Taking channels off the air or interfering in broadcast is unacceptable. This constitutes an unconstitutional practice," Ilkiz said.