Turkish people ′shocked′ by journalist arrests | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.12.2014
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Turkish people 'shocked' by journalist arrests

Trumped-up charges are to be leveled at more than a dozen recently arrested Turkish journalists. DW talks to Turkey-analyst Günter Seufert about why the Turkish president is going after them now.

Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of the Turkish newspaper Zaman

Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of the Turkish newspaper Zaman, is one of 16 journalists recently arrested in the country

DW: Sixteen journalists are to be tried in court. Is this a new dimension in Turkey's power struggle against journalists?

Günter Seufert: There's no such thing as a power struggle with journalists, but rather a struggle between political opponents. And journalists who support one side or the other - in this case the government's side or the Gülen supporters - through their coverage and revelations are often victims. What remains, in the end, is that freedom of the press is vastly restricted.

Some of the journalists work for media outlets that belong to part of the "empire" of US-based opposition preacher Fethullah Gülen. A warrant for his arrest has also been issued. Why is Turkey going on the offensive against him right now?

16.05.2013 DW Quadriga Guenter Seufert

Günter Seufert, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)

For one thing, corruption investigations are approaching an anniversary. They began in December 2013 against prosecutors and police officers with ties, so they say, to the Gülen movement. Erdogan is now trying to set the agenda by delivering a decisive blow against the movement. He has already cleansed the justice system of Gülen followers, has made the police force his own, and is now going after the organization's media empire.

Does the Gülen movement represent the last opposition in the country?

You can't really say that. We have the Kurds as a very strong opposition force, with whom the Turkish government is also negotiating. And we have the secular opposition that, although it hasn't been making much progress winning over voters, is still very vocal.

What kinds of consequences - including financial - will this have for Gülen and his empire?

This is a huge blow. The media empire is a big financial factor for him, but it also gives Gülen the voice with which he speaks to the population.

What consequences will the charges have for the journalists affected?

They will be accused of having undermined "state order," of having attempted to overthrow the government, of having founded a terrorist organization. Which means numerous ideological offenses, and little material evidence for actual violations of the law.

Among the journalists arrested are prominent individuals, such as the editor-in-chief of the most widely circulated newspaper, "Zaman." How is the public reacting?

They're shocked. For the first time in Turkey's history, we're seeing secular forces pushing for the freedom of journalists at the conservative end of the political spectrum. Even the Kurdish movement has protested. Across all ideological boundaries, there are calls for civil liberties, freedom of expression, press freedom - it's an attempt to form a common front against the government.

As openly as Erdogan has taken on Gülen and freedom of expression - could he be accused of having breached the constitution?

I would say so.

Günter Seufert is Turkey specialist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin. He spent many years in Istanbul as director of the Oriental Institute and later as a journalist.

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