Gov’t takeover of Koza Ipek signals further attacks on critical media in Turkey

The corporate headquarters of Koza ipek Holding, which owns five critical media outlets, were raided by the riot police on Tuesday who used pepper spray as they entered the building to serve the holding with what opposition voices have said is an unlawful decision to take over the company management in order to silence the free media less than a week before the Nov. 1 general election.
The remaining media outlets that are critical and independent of the government line are also under the risk of unlawful seizure. Just like Koza ipek, the Dogan and Feza media groups are facing anti-terror probes through government-backed judicial investigations.
The opposition and a number of lawyers and intellectuals were up in arms on Tuesday, strongly criticizing the government for the crackdown on major media outlets in order to muzzle critical and independent voices ahead of the election, with hundreds of supporters flocking to the holdingand’s headquarters in Ankara and its media offices in Istanbul.
Many in Turkey are concerned that the government crackdown on critical and independent media has reached such a point that takeovers will soon engulf other media groups. Government whistleblower Fuat Avni claimed back in August that Koza ipek and later the Aydin Dogan media group would be seized by the government.
On Tuesday, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Ankara deputy Aydin andunal, who is also President Recep Tayyip Erdoganand’s former top aiser and speechwriter, publicly declared that the government would go after other media groups such as SandOzcandu, Handurriyet, Cumhuriyet and Zaman after the election.
Speaking on the pro-government A Haber TV channel on Tuesday, andunal vowed to deal with other critical media groups after the election. and”Weand’ll definitely call them to account after Nov. 1. Dailies like SandOzcandu have been insulting us every day. If you say something, it is touted as interference in the press. We are not in a very comfortable environment but all of them will be brought to account after Nov. 1,and” he said.
Claiming that he had insider information, Democratic Left Party (DSP)hairman Masum Tandurker spoke to told Bugandun TV on Tuesday to say that the governmentand’s next move is to take over the conglomerate of Aydin Dogan, who owns the countryand’s largest media group including the Handurriyet, Posta and Handurriyet Daily News newspapers and TV stations Kanal D and CNN Turk.
The Dogan Media Group has previously been threatened with confiscation by Erdogan, high-ranking government officials and pro-government media spin-doctors. The seizure of Koza ipek has proved that these claims are not far-fetched.
The police who were instructed to formally serve Mondayand’s decision to appoint a trustee to manage all of the two dozen companies owned by Koza ipek were unable to enter the premises of media offices in Istanbul after lawyers who were present challenged the authenticity of the court document because it did not bear the original signature. The company lawyers said they were ready to turn over the management provided that court order is served properly according to the law.
In a similar effort, the lawyers attempted to block a police team from entering the companyand’s headquarters in Ankara for several minutes, also claiming that the police officers were not legally authorized to present the decision and implement it. However, backed by riot police in gas masks, the police officers broke down the gates, used pepper spray on the lawyers and made their way into the building by force.
Judge Yunus Sanduer of the Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled on Monday for the takeover of the administration of the holdingand’s 22 companies, including two television stations, two newspapers and one radio station that have a critical editorial position toward the government after a request from Prosecutor Musa Yanducel.
The decision to effectively surrender major media outlets to the interim AK Party government has sparked strong criticism, with a number of lawyers calling the move and”arbitraryand” and and”unlawfuland” and warning of serious consequences.
Turkish Bar Association (TBB)hairman Metin Feyzioilu defined the takeover of Koza ipek Holding management as and”the seizure of media outlets that are critical of government by the palace,and” referring to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Twitter on Tuesday.
and”The management of the companies [belonging to Koza ipek Holding] has been taken over and individuals designated by a judge have been appointed to manage the companies. However, there is a detail that should not go unnoticed: Most of these trustees are affiliated with the AK Party. andhellip Donand’t try to fool people. All these occurrences are viewed as the seizure of the critical media by the palace,and” Feyzioilu said.
The people who have been appointed to lead these companies are either members of the AK Party or people who work for pro-government media groups, even though the relevant mechanism in Turkish law requires trustees to be completely independent and objective.
The so-called courts of peace are a new feature of the Turkish justice system, established by the government when Erdogan was prime minister as specially authorized courts with extraordinary powers that contradict the universal rule of law and take decisions under the influence of the AK Party.
Main opposition Republican Peoplesand’ Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kiliandcdaroilu has called on Koza ipek Holding CEO Akin ipek to show solidarity with him in the face of what he called the unlawful decision to seize his companies. He earlier called for the abolition of the criminal courts of peace, which he said were a tool in the hands of the AK party government to punish critics and opponents. ipek remarked on Monday night that the government had seized the companies after failing to find anything illegal during a previous investigation into the companyand’s affairs.
Taking over critical media outlets just before the election will not only prevent the opposition political parties from communicating their messages but also give a distinct aantage to the AK Party, which already enjoys the support of dozens of pro-government media outlets, according to opposition politicians who visited Koza ipekand’s media offices on Tuesday in a show of support.
CHP lawmaker Barii Yarkadai said on Tuesday that the decision is completely arbitrary and illegitimate. andquotThis operation, which is being carried out without a [real] court order, is arbitrary, null and void and illegitimate,andquot he said, adding that the move is the latest attempt by the government and President Erdogan to silence critical media outlets. Another CHP lawmaker, lawyer Mahmut Tanal, said that the decision lacks any legal grounds and is simply serving political ends. and”The AK Party is creating instability to change the agenda and prevent the public from learning the truth,and” he said.
The US Embassy in Ankara has also joined the growing chorus of those expressing concern over the takeover of Koza ipek Holdingand’s companies. and”The US believes strongly that freedom of pressexpression are universal rights. andhellip When there is a reduction in the range of viewpoints available to citizens, especially before an election, it is a matter of concern,and” the embassy wrote on its Twitter account on Tuesday.
Prominent journalists, columnists, editors-in-chief and press freedom aocacy groups have also raised their concerns over the government-backed court decision to seize Koza ipek Holding and visited its media offices in Istanbul and Ankara on Tuesday in solidarity with the journalists in the group.
Last week, a delegation of the worldand’s leading watchdogs for press freedom ended an unprecedented emergency press freedom mission to Turkey, expressing solidarity with Turkish journalists and calling for an end to the aggressive oppression of the media that it said was hurting Turkish democracy. The joint coalition is the first of its kind to unite leading watchdogs that included representatives from the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Article 19, the Index on Censorship and the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN).
Never before have these organizations acted together for an extensive mission. The coalition made rounds to political actors and newspapers in Turkey on an emergency visit to the country prior to the upcoming election. andquotRepresentatives of participating international, regional and local groups dedicated to press freedom and free expression find that pressure on journalists operating in Turkey has severely escalated in the period between parliamentary elections held June 7 and the upcoming elections,andquot the mission said in a declaration.