An Istanbul court in Turkey on March 4, 2016 appointed pro-government trustees to seize the media outlet Feza Media Group, which owns Zaman, the highest circulating newspaper in the country; its English-language sister publication, Today’s Zaman and one of the country’s top private news agencies Cihan. The government-approved appointment of trustees is the government’s latest attack on press freedom on the road to silence critical media in Turkey and strengthen its hagiographic media coverage. The prosecutor has produced no evidence in public to support the claim that the media outlet has committed terrorism crimes that merits the decision to appoint a trustee panel to run the company.
The legal definition of ‘terrorism’ in Turkish law and its interpretation and application by Turkish courts, as it has been noted and stressed in many cases against Turkey in the European Courts of Human Rights (ECtHR), is so broad and loosely defined that in its current form and definition, any act or position deemed as critical by the Turkish government is seen as legally sufficient to categorise a group as a terrorist organisation and a person as a member of such organisation.
There might be a tendency to see the Feza Media Group’s seizure as another example of a power struggle between the Hizmet Movement and the Justice and Development Party (AKP). This unfortunate simplification misportray the current state of the rule of law and core values of democracy in Turkey and the systematic nature of human rights abuses in Turkey. “Journalists of every kind are routinely intimidated, threatened with legal action and detained. Publications and broadcasting organisations have been put under extreme pressure to sack columnists whom the government dislikes”, read the editorial of the Guardian.
On February 26 the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) ceased satellite distribution of IMC TV over its alleged link to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Bengü Türk TV, a television station close to the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) over alleged financial difficulties. In October 2015, a Turkish court appointed a panel of pro-government trustees to run the holding company Koza Ipek, effectively seizing control of Bugün newspaper and TV, and the TV station Kanaltürk. The holding’s television channels and newspapers were closed down on February 29.
Press freedom occupies an invaluable position in a functioning democracy by holding those in power accountable. Turkey’s alarming trend of human rights violations and increasing pressure on business owners and media outlets is cause for serious concern about the future of Turkey’s democracy. The resolution of Turkey’s long standing issues relies on a functioning democracy and strong democratic institutions. The European Union’s (EU) hesitant language in addressing human rights violations in Turkey gives the impression that the EU stays quiet about the government’s crackdown on dissent in exchange for Turkey’s support on the refugee crisis.
Turkey is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. In Freedom House Freedom Index, it is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2016, Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2015, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2015.