Turkish authorities raid independent media company

New York, September 2, 2015–Turkish police on Tuesday raided the offices of a media group, in what one editor called an attempt to silence opposition media ahead of November parliamentary elections, according to news reports. The move follows terrorism charges leveled against VICE News journalists who have been detained while reporting from the predominantly Kurdish southeastern part of the country.

“These raids on domestic media and the arrests of foreign reporters are a disturbing indication of the worsening press freedom climate in Turkey,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Covering the political and security upheavals in Turkey and the wider region is not terrorism. Calling it so is using national security as a cloak for censorship.”

On Tuesday, police in the capital, Ankara, raided the offices of Koza-Ipek Holding, a business conglomerate that owns at least five media outlets as well as mining and food production companies, confiscated computers and hard drives, and briefly detained at least six Koza-Ipek employees, according to news reports. Police presented a search warrant.

Koza-Ipek owns the dailies Bugun and Millet, TV stations Bugun TV and Kanalturk, and the news website BGNNews, according to Turkish and international media. The outlets are critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, news reports said.

Authorities accused Koza-Ipek of disseminating terrorist propaganda and providing financial support to a terrorist group, Reuters reported citing the state-run Anadolu agency. Authorities also issued an arrest warrant for Akın İpek, the head of the company, who left the country last week. In a telephone interview with Koza-Ipek’s TV stations, İpek denied that there were any illegal activities in his business dealings. “It is a total fantasy, an empty slander,” he said.

Erdoğan has accused the outlets of being closely linked to self-exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former supporter and now critic of Erdoğan who lives in the U.S. The government has repeatedly said that the Gülen movement is a terrorist organization which has infiltrated the judiciary, police, and media.

The news editor of Kanalturk and Bugun TV, Erkan Akkus, told Reuters that the offices were raided were to “silence the opposition media ahead of an election.”

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for November 1. Erdogan’s Justice and Development party, or AKP, suffered a huge setback in June when it failed to a win a single-party majority for the first time, according to news reports.

Broadly worded anti-terrorism and penal code statutes have allowed Turkish authorities to conflate the coverage of banned groups and investigation of sensitive topics with outright terrorism or other anti-state activity, according to CPJ research. Journalists seeking to cover the activities of groups that have been classified as terrorist organizations, including the PKK, have often been imprisoned or obstructed, CPJ research shows.

Turkish authorities arrested two British journalists and a fixer working for the U.S.-based VICE News and charged with them with “aiding a terrorist organization.” Today, VICE News reported that the journalists had been moved to a high-security prison, several hours away from where their legal team is based. On Tuesday, CPJ wrote a letter to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, calling on him to ensure that the charges against the journalists are dropped and that they are released immediately.