ANKARA, Turkey – A dozen police officers, joined by officials from Turkey’s treasury and the county’s broadcasting watchdog, marched into the pro-Kurdish IMC-TV television station, sealed off its control rooms and forced the channel off the air during a live program on democracy.
The station had anticipated the raid ever since the government, using powers it acquired by declaring a state of emergency in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt, last week ordered IMC-TV and 22 other broadcasters to shut down.
The bold act of censorship nonetheless stunned staff members Tuesday in the channel’s studio.
“Long live hell for the oppressors!” IMC-TV co-ordinating editor Eyup Burc shouted during the live broadcast. “We stand against coups and we stand against those who use coups to carry out their own coup.”
As Turkey prepares to extend by another three months the state of emergency it imposed after July’s failed military coup, critics fear President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the uprising as an excuse to silence his detractors.
The government says it needs more time to eradicate a network linked to U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which the government accuses of orchestrating the attempted coup. But Turkey already has used the emergency powers to carry out an unprecedented purge of people suspected of links to the cleric and has extended the crackdown to go after Kurdish and left-leaning media outlets.
Comments Erdogan made this month suggesting the state of emergency could last as long as a year have reinforced concerns about the president’s aims. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, has accused the government of leading a “counter-coup.”
The state of emergency allows the government to rule by decree with limited parliamentary involvement. Some 32,000 people allegedly connected to the coup have been arrested, while tens of thousands of teachers, soldiers, police officers, judges and prosecutors have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs for suspected links to Gulen, who denies any involvement in the coup attempt.
Hundreds of schools and foundations run by the movement, which the government has listed as a terror organization, have been shut down or taken over. Media outlets once owned by Gulen have been closed down while prominent journalists they employed have been arrested.
Authorities more recently have moved against pro-Kurdish and leftist groups, using a government decree to dismiss 11,000 left-leaning teachers and to force off the air television and radio stations accused of acting as mouthpieces for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Among them was a children’s television station broadcasting cartoons in the Kurdish language.
“Fears that the government would make opportunistic use of the state of emergency to silence critics who have nothing to do with the July 15 coup attempt have come true,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director for Human Rights Watch.
More than 100 journalists have been arrested since the state of emergency was declared and thousands lost their jobs or had press credentials cancelled by the government, according to the Journalists’ Association of Turkey. Human Rights Watch said the clamp down on broadcasters “effectively ends critical television news reporting in Turkey.”
The suppression of critical voices has not been limited to news organizations.
Novelist Asli Erdogan, who wrote for the Ozgur Gundem daily newspaper, was arrested on charges of membership in an armed terror organization. Also rounded up was singer Atilla Tas, who had acquired a large social media following for his humorous criticisms of Erdogan and the government.
“What the uniformed coup plotters could not achieve on July 15, (the government) has achieved by extending the state of emergency,” Republican People’s Party legislator and spokeswoman Selin Sayek Boke said. “They usurped the parliament’s most basic powers of enacting laws on behalf of the people.”
IMC-TV, which promotes Kurdish and other minority issues, also was ordered shut down for alleged links to the PKK. Like the Gulen movement, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is outlawed as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.
The station, which rejects the accusation, already was removed earlier this year from Turkey’s largest satellite platform for allegedly engaging in “terrorist propaganda.” It was operating through another satellite and via the internet before this week’s raid.
“The state of emergency allows them to make these accusations without any proof and without taking any one to court,” IMC-TV News Director Hamza Aktan, who was in the station’s control room at the time of the raid, told The Associated Press. “Channels they do not like and who do not follow their line are easily being disposed of.”
Nebi Mis, the political research director at the pro-government Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research think-tank in Ankara, defended the purges.
“Those who carried out the July 15 coup not only infringed on human rights, but also on the people’s right to life. A policy of full purification is necessary,” Mis said.
Silencing Kurdish media outlets also was appropriate since the state of emergency encompasses other outlawed organizations, he said. Yet authorities may have “gone overboard” in some cases by going after media outlets that criticize the government, Mis said.
Erdogan and other officials acknowledge that some innocent people have been caught up in the upheaval. The government has promised to set up centres to process claims of unfair dismissals.