Crocodile tears from AKP: ’We too wish they hadn’t been arrested’

One stand-out factor this time around has been the crocodile tears and hand-wringing we’ve seen from top Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials: “We too wish they hadn’t been arrested.” Numan Kurtulmus and Ahmet Davutoglu have both been quoted as saying they believe Dundar and Gul ought to be released on their own recognizance pending trial. Of course, both men were quick to add to these statements that they knew it was “not right to intervene in the workings of the justice system.”

Davutoglu is of course the prime minister, while Kurtulmus is deputy prime minister as well as government spokesperson. In other words, they both occupy offices that are bound by the government’s official stance. Thus their recent statements are not only devoid of any sincerity, but actually aim to help hide the real responsibility that the government bears in this all.

First of all, it is the ruling party that set up these special “penal courts,” equipped with special authority and single adjudicators, which ordered the arrests of these journalists. These are courts that function directly in response to orders given by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or from the top levels of the AKP. In terms of how they function, these courts are not much different from the infamous İstiklal (Independence) Courts of the 1920s and ’30s, or the notorious coup era courts from previous decades. The common denominator is that they are all courts that work directly with the political leadership and aim to crush and silence opposition via the workings of the justice system.

Secondly, according to local laws, attempts to try and influence the justice system constitute a serious crime. But this serious crime is committed nearly every day by Erdogan. The allegations against Dundar and Gul came in the wake of open threats made by Erdogan against these journalists. Various pro-government media columnists have been busy publishing lists almost daily about newspapers that should be forced to shut down, journalists that should be fired, or people that should be arrested. The threats are endless. So if Davutoglu’s stated avowal that “we can’t intervene in justice” isn’t irony, what is?

Perhaps most unbelievable is that we’ve now witnessed Davutoglu assuring international press members that he has “red lines in Turkey when it comes to freedom of the press.” It’s difficult not to wonder if you’re dreaming when you hear such things…

Thirdly: the allegations against Dundar and Gul, i.e., the reasons stated for their arrests, are horrific. It is being claimed these journalists were engaging in espionage. This is a very serious allegation; that being the case, why did both Davutoglu and Kurtulmus claim that it would have been better for these journalists to be released on their own recognizance pending trial?

Of course, these are inconsistencies and contradictions that are not only evident in the arrests of Dundar and Gul. Remember Samanyolu Media Group director Hidayet Karaca was arrested and thrown in prison on the basis of a TV series. How about Mehmet Baransu for articles he wrote? And think of journalist Gultekin Avcı, arrested on charges of his columns “supporting a coup.” Every day now in Turkey, courts are filled with journalists facing charges of having “insulted the president.”

In the meantime, İpek Media Group has been seized. TV channels have been forced off the air, screens have been darkened. Most opposition newspapers and TV channels now face daily fears that they too will be shut down or seized. Journalists turn out their stories, wondering if today might be the last day they are published. And of course, inevitably some publications decide on their own to quit voicing any opposition to the ruling party, thus choosing the path of least resistance when it comes to avoiding government pressure.

This is the national atmosphere under which the arrests of Dundar and Gul took place. The lawyers for Dundar and Gul expressed their objection to the arrests of their clients in a three-line statement aimed at the government: “We are doing our duties and objecting to these arrests, which fall contrary to our Constitution, our laws and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR]. The rest falls on you. The choices and responsibilities herein lie with you.”

The AKP has raised the bar; this time, the government — so quick to label any opposition as being rooted in espionage, coup plotting or terrorism — has committed a transgression of historic proportions.