A total of 27 people, including journalists and police officers, were detained for questioning on the weekend. Some of them were released after being interrogated, while others are still undergoing legal transactions. The European and U.S. press reported the incident, making statements such as, "Press freedom is under threat in Turkey," with Western politicians approaching it in a similar manner.
Well, are the recent detentions a matter of debate regarding press freedom? Could these developments be evaluated within the patterns of political veracity alone? What would be the position of the U.S., EU or any other institutionalized democracy in the face of a similar situation?
The operations that took place on the weekend began following the complaint of a man suffering from multiple sclerosis and a former imam, named Mehmet Doğan, who was jailed for 17 months without trial. Doğan, who was one of the leading figures of a legal religious group, was released by the court to which he was taken months later. According to Doğan's claim, a group consisting of journalists and police officers conspired against him and his cronies with fabricated evidence. Furthermore, as Doğan asserts, the one who ordered this operation, as well as a lynching media campaign against him was Fethullah Gülen, a former imam currently living in the U.S.
A sermon poised to receive an Emmy
Fethullah Gülen is the leader of the Gülen Movement, a religious group in Turkey. He lives in Pennsylvania where he fled to in 1999 after realizing that he would be prosecuted due to allegations made against him. It is acknowledged by some that Gülen is managing a number of bureaucrats who act independently from the state, particularly in the judiciary and police. Gülen and his proponents, far from denying these allegations, are using them as a means of gaining prestige. The group also has a media interest, including television channels, newspapers and magazines.
One of Gülen's weekly sermons was uploaded onto the website herkul.org on Apr. 6, 2009. He said the following (referring to another religious group that he saw as opposing himself): "For instance, you could come up with something called Hizbulvahşet. After Hizbulvahşet, they invented al-Qaida. Tomorrow, they could invent other new things. For instance, they could create something called Tahşiye. If they could organize them well, God forbid, they could strive to make these people penetrate groups of true and book-reading Muslims. They could give them weapons to strengthen them. They could hang pictures of the person on the back cover of books in their houses. They might say that they expound the Nur Movement and call themselves 'Tahşiyeciler.' Then, they might give them Kalashnikovs."
The imam's oracle suddenly comes true
The leader of the group that Gülen called "Tahşiye" in his sermon was Mehmet Doğan, after whose complaint, this past weekend's operation was launched. Following this sermon in which Gülen gave messages to his supporters, Gülen Movement-affiliated newspapers began publishing articles defaming the Tahşiye group. This defamation campaign was run so systematically that it sparked great confusion. Doğan and his cronies, who were made scapegoats by Gülen, were presented as the "Tahşiye terror organization" in the television series of a Gülen Movement-affiliated channel, Samanyolu TV.
After the public was informed of this plot by the Gülenist media, the police officers and prosecutors of the "parallel structure," which it is claimed, act autonomously within the state, came into play. In January 2010, Doğan was detained along with 122 other members, an event which was reflected in the media as an "al-Qaida operation" in a way that was totally compatible with what was predicted by Gülen eight months earlier. It also matched the scenario of the television series "Tek Türkiye" (One Turkey) on Samanyolu TV.
The people who were targeted by Gülen were not brought to court for 17 months, violating all provisions of the law. Despite being a non-violent, legitimate religious group, there was no one to demand justice for Doğan and his fellows, who were declared an affiliate of al-Qaida.
The court released Doğan and his friends after the first hearing. It could not be otherwise, as their only evidence were the news reports by the Gülen media and scenarios of Gülenist TV shows. The fingerprints that were detected on grenades that were obtained during the raids conducted in the houses of suspects did not belong to those arrested, but to the police officers who conducted the raid. Furthermore, expert reports said that the grenades comprised materials that were seized by the police during other operations.
The parallel structure unveiled in the recent operation
But the scandal is not limited to this incident. When Doğan and his followers, whose rights were violated, lodged a legal complaint, the prosecutor's office attempted to launch an investigation against them. However, the names of the people who would be detained for questioning as part of the investigation were disclosed to the press by the parallel structure's police officers just before the operation was launched. Subsequently, some of the people on the investigation list fled abroad, and others began making media shows, in which they partly succeeded. They managed to couch the matter in terms of press freedom, particularly in the foreign media, as if there were no complaints about them. Even though no-one supports them in Turkey apart from the Gülenist media, they managed to influence the international community.
A member of the Gülen Movement who conducts the movement's lobbying activities abroad, almost admitted this fact with the following tweet that he posted from Washington: "The happenings in Turkey were taken as an offensive against the press in the Western media, and the institutions of the U.S. and EU. It is a hard task changing it."
What would you do if your country faced a similar incident?
As unwittingly confessed in the abovementioned tweet, there are many people who are deceived by this game in the U.S. and EU. But it is certain that those who evaluate the matter within the scope of press freedom cannot escape from answering the following questions: is it liberalism or discrimination if one categorically opposes the fact that journalists are detained to give testimony in the case of official complaints? Could crimes such as threatening, conspiracy, producing false evidence, violating personal rights and depriving people of freedom be evaluated within the context of journalism? Would the U.S. or any European country not conduct legal transactions against someone who is accused of misdeeds with judicial evidence, just because he is a journalist? Does the presumption of innocence mean that journalists or "privileged occupational groups" are exempt from investigative and prosecutory processes that apply to other citizens? The real problem is that those who are investigated are classified in line with their professions and treated differently, is this not so? Could it not be a natural security problem in an institutionalized democracy if judicial investigations are leaked to addressees by public officials in advance?
And the last question: why does the American and European press and some officials think that it is a problem when the rights that are granted to states by universal law are used in a Middle Eastern country? I do not mind telling you that we Turks are sick and tired of this double standard.