Prosecutor Overseeing Turkish Graft Inquiry Is Removed From Case

A departing Turkish minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, waved Thursday as he left his post. He has called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to resign.

ISTANBUL — An Istanbul prosecutor who had been overseeing a sprawling corruption investigation of the prime minister’s inner circle was removed from the case on Thursday, in a new sign of a profound power struggle over Turkey’s judiciary and police forces.

The prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, issued a condemnation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, accusing it of interfering in the judiciary and preventing him from carrying out his work.

Mr. Akkas said that the government had prevented the police forces from pursuing a new round of suspects in the widening inquiry. Among those suspects, according to several Turkish news media reports, is Mr. Erdogan’s son, whose name was on a summons that was leaked to the press on Thursday evening.

“The judiciary has clearly been pressured,” Mr. Akkas said in a written statement, charging his superiors with “committing a crime” for not carrying out arrest warrants, and saying that suspects had been allowed to “take precautions, flee and tamper with evidence.”

The prosecutor’s removal from the case came a day after the resignations of three ministers whose sons had been implicated. One of them, the environment and urban planning minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, broke precedent by calling for the prime minister to resign, too.

Read more at The New York Times

This is a huge story. Here we have shades of Nixon and Watergate in Turkey. This looks like the beginning of the unraveling of AKP’s power. For those of us who are deeply interested in human history and politics, this seems like one of those unique historic moments. Now would be a good time to start paying close attention.

Turkish Discontent: Gezi Protests Spawn New Party

In late May 2013, a larger protest was sparked after police violently broke up a sit-in in Gezi Park. Protesters were demonstrating against plans to raze the park, one of the last green spaces in the center of the European part of Istanbul, and replace it with a shopping center.

The protests that erupted in Turkey in May 2013 saw a local environmental protest bloom into a nationwide pro-democracy movement. A new political party has formed to channel this dissatisfaction into political power, but the hurdles to success are high.

Gezi stands for democracy. For freedom. For having a political say and personal responsibility. For parks and trees. And for daring to say “no” to those in power. And for being able to believe in, hope for and love whatever you wish, exactly as you please. That’s what makes it a bit of a miracle that suddenly all sorts of different people were uniting behind a common goal.

But Gezi has run out of steam. The protests that were sparked when Turkey’s government announced plans to raze Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in the center of the European part of Istanbul, and replace it with a shopping center, have now subsided. In June, thousands took to the streets, first in Istanbul, and then throughout the entire country. Now, the demonstrations are few and far between.

“That’s exactly why we’ve decided that we have to take it a step further and found a party,” says Cem Köksal. The 37-year-old with shoulder-length brown hair is greeted by young people on the streets here in the Kadiköy district of Istanbul. Köksal is a rock musician and guitarist who also writes and produces music. He and his comrades-in-arms want to challenge Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their plan is to grow a political force from the seeds of a pro-democracy movement.

“Erdogan said to us demonstrators that we shouldn’t protest on the street, but instead stand for election if we want to change something,” says Teoman Kumbaracibasi, 42. “That’s us!” Known as “Teo,” he is also widely known as an actor on a TV series.

‘Our Goal Is Not the Opposition, but the Government’

In October, Kumbaracibasi and Köksal founded the Gezi Party (GZP) with 26 others. The party is a colorful mix of young and old, left-wing and conservative, blue-collar worker and university student. What unites them is a shared dissatisfaction with Erdogan and his authoritarian government. On Saturday, the GZP will open itself to new members. “There are hundreds who want to join us even though they have no idea exactly what we want,” says Kumbaracibasi. “Thousands,” Köksal corrects him. Just a month after launching, he adds, the party has already attracted 31,000 fans on its Facebook page.

Indeed, Facebook is where all these people found each other. “A few months back, we didn’t know each other at all. Now we are constantly working with each other, like each other, love each other,” says Nursun Gürbüz, who works for an export company. Together, they want to achieve something big. This ambition is broadcast by their party logo: a man whose legs are taking root in the ground like tree trunks and whose arms are holding a green ball. The message here is: We embrace Gezi, we embrace the entire world. The group wants to field candidates for the 2015 parliamentary elections. “And our goal is not the opposition, but the government,” Köksal says.

Read more at Der Spiegel

Turkey Cracks Down on Cleavage

How do you know whether a regime that frees women to wear Islamic headscarves at work is liberal and furthering democracy, or Islamist and restricting it?

The question concerns Turkey’s government, which in the space of a few days has ended a headscarf ban for civil servants (except in the judiciary and security services), but also caused a female TV music-show presenter to be fired for showing too much cleavage.

The headscarf ban was a piece of unabashed social engineering introduced in the 1920s to make Turkey, the rump of the former Ottoman Empire and Islamic Caliphate, secular. If you are liberal and not Islamophobic, ending the ban is a good thing: Women should not be excluded from the workplace just because they are devout and believe this requires covering their hair, period.

But what if the change — which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan introduced as part of a broad “democratization” package — is part of a wider plan of social re-engineering, this time designed to impinge on the liberties of non-religious conservatives? If so, the numerous cases in which women were discriminated against, fired or passed over for promotion for wearing a headscarf even outside of work would now be repeated in reverse: Women who don’t wear headscarves to work, and men whose wives don’t cover their hair, will be discriminated against, fired and passed over for promotion.

Turkey’s secularists say this is already happening to men whose wives show their locks. That’s hard to prove, but the real issue is trust — secularists believe the worst of Erdogan’s intentions. Are they right?

Read more at Bloomberg

With global influence, Turkey matters

The Committee to Protect Journalists promotes press freedom worldwide by defending the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. Founded in 1981, CPJ takes action when journalists are censored, jailed, kidnapped, or killed for their work, without regard to political ideology. In its defense of journalists, CPJ protects the rights of all people to access independent sources of information – an essential part of a free society.

Turkey is hardly a press freedom paradise, but what makes the country so exciting for journalists is the amount of news it generates on any given day. The domestic story is huge, with near-daily street protests, the booming economy beginning to sag, and the prospect of regional conflict looming with Syria. And Istanbul is a base for the international press covering not only Turkey but also Syria, Iraq and Egypt.

All of this means that it is not hard to get a crowd of journalists together in Istanbul, especially if you’re buying the drinks. The talk inevitably turns to not only of what is being reported but what is not.

CPJ’s classification of Turkey as the world’s leading jailer of journalists was last year’s headline. The use of broad anti-terror laws to criminalize critical expression has long been a key component of the Turkish government strategy to suppress the Kurdish media as well as leftist and nationalist groups that it alleges are trying to topple the government.

The situation today is actually worse than it was when CPJ’s comprehensive press freedom report was issued in October 2012. In June, when street clashes over the destruction of Gezi Park morphed into broader demonstrations, journalists covering the protests became frequent targets of police abuse. During CPJ’s visit to Turkey last week, I met with one journalist, Hüseyin Gökhan Biçici, of the broadcaster IMC, who described how police detained him, ripped off his gas mask, and repeatedly beat him with clubs, focusing on his genitals.

But most mainstream journalists don’t fear being beaten or jailed. Instead, they fear losing their jobs.

The primary means of media control and manipulation involves indirect methods, such as pressure on media owners whose complex business interests depend on government support. There are widespread reports of phone calls from government advisers resulting in a particular journalist being fired or hired. The Turkish Union of Journalists reports that dozens of journalists have lost their jobs.

Read more at The Huffington Post

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