Istanbul, October 28, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns this week’s raids on several pro-opposition media outlets belonging to the Koza İpek Group. Police broke into the company’s building in Istanbul today and shut down live television broadcasts, two days after a Turkish court ordered the trustees of the privately owned company to be replaced, according to reports.
Istanbul police broke the gates of the Koza İpek building in Istanbul’s Şişli district and used water cannons and tear gas against protesters who had gathered in support of the news outlets, reports said. The building houses the company’s five media outlets: Bugün TV, Kanaltürk TV, Kanaltürk radio, and the daily newspapers Bugün and Millet. Police cut live broadcasts of Bugün TV and Kanaltürk TV during the raid, according to local press reports. The news broadcasts, which had provided political debate and opposition views in the run-up to November 1 parliamentary elections, have been replaced with documentaries on World War II and the lives of camels, reports said. It is unclear if the raid will obstruct the reporting of the radio station and newspapers. Both papers had published their October 29 editions by the time this alert was released.
“By replacing news broadcasts with camel films days before a parliamentary election, Turkey’s leaders have shown they no longer are interested in even pretending to respect the country’s democracy,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the Turkish government to immediately return Bugün TV, Kanaltürk TV, and the other Koza İpek media outlets to their rightful management.”
Today’s action comes a day after riot police raided the Ankara headquarters of the media outlets’ holding company, Koza İpek Group, which also owns mining and food production companies. The raids were carried out to enforce a Monday decision by the 5th Ankara Penal Court of Peace, which ordered senior management to be replaced with a government-approved board of trustees during an investigation into the company, according to reports. The Koza İpek Group said it is contesting the legality of the government takeover.
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office sought the takeover while authorities investigate alleged ties between the Koza İpek Group and Fethullah Gülen, a government supporter turned critic living in self-imposed exile, according to the English-language Hürriyet Daily News. The Turkish government claims that Gülen is leading an illegal organization that has infiltrated Turkish society, the police, judiciary, and the media, with the purposes of toppling the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) administration. Gülen denies the claims.
The measures this week are a continuation of pressure on the Koza İpek Group. In September, at least six Koza İpek employees were detained briefly, and computers and hard drives were confiscated when Ankara police raided the company, according to reports. The group was accused of disseminating terrorist propaganda and providing financial support to the alleged Gülen-led illegal organization, according to reports. Turkish authorities have declared the alleged organization a terrorist group.
Turkey’s broadly worded anti-terrorism statutes have enabled authorities to conflate coverage of banned groups as well as reporting on sensitive issues with terrorism or other anti-state activity, CPJ has found.
Authorities have said the appointment of a new board of trustees to the Koza İpek Group was necessary to ensure “a healthy investigation” of the holding’s finances and to “uncover material truths,” according to the Ankara court decision, as cited by the Hürriyet Daily News. In an interview for Bugün TV before the station was shut down, Koza İpek’s chief executive office, Akın İpek, said the targeting of his companies was politically motivated and the government takeover was carried out because authorities failed to find any illegal activities during financial inspections of his businesses.