Sunday, December 14, police arrested editor-in-chief of Zaman, one of top circulating daily papers in Turkey. Police detained a total of 31 people, including media figures, and former police chiefs carrying out operations in 13 provinces. Among those arrested is also head of Samanyolu television. The two media platforms are known for their ties to the U.S.-based cleric Gulen. However, right advocates across Turkey and abroad see the arrests as a wider crackdown on the freedom of speech in Turkey. The arrest came days before the anniversary of corruption probe of last year exposing Turkey’s then - prime minister Erdogan, his cabinet, and business allies.
Lamiya Adilgizi, political correspondent with Todays Zaman, English daily of Zaman Media Group spoke to Azadliq Radio about the morale at the paper.
Azadliq Radio: Please describe the atmosphere in the office?
A: Nothing has changed here at the office. We are working with the same determination. The TZ team consists of young and inspiring people from different countries and ethnicities, including Turks. We are more united these days.
What is happening to our journalists and our paper is a real sign of crack down on media and silencing of dissident voices in Turkey. It illustrates Turkey’s dissent into an authoritarian power leadership in the region.
We are not frightened at all. Contrary, we feel empowered to fight for democracy and human rights in Turkey.
I arrived back in İstanbul late Saturday night from a trip abroad so imagine how shocked I was when the next day as I approached our office, I saw all those police cars and armed police officers standing outside the Zaman building. For the first time I could not believe what I was seeing.
I can only interpret this incident as a weapon directed against free media. This was a witch-hunt in real time happening right in front of me.
Police were not the only guests who came on Sunday. Thousands of Turks gathered in our support, chanting slogans: “free media cannot be silenced”, “we are together with you”. This was empowering and also convinced me not all conscience, hearts and minds are silenced. Whatever happens to our “Demirbaş” journalists, the paper will continue its operation.
Q. Do you think it was an accident that the raid came only two days prior to the anniversary of the famous leaks?
It is not an accident at all. It has been already a year since Erdoğan been on an all-out offensive against Hizmet.
Q: Whats next for the paper and other media outlets in Turkey?
No, no one is leaving the paper despite the government attempts to intimidate us. They are especially trying it hard with the foreign correspondents.
The government is using even those who switched sides in this struggle, this is really loathsome.
I don’t think they are going after many others. Their target is Zaman Media group and other institutions related to Hizmet movement. It is mainly Zaman and Todays Zaman, the government is accusing of “treason” since we were primary news source for an international community for on-the-ground Turkey updates in the past year.
Q. Do you see Turkey setting a bad example in its immedaite neighborhood? You have worked as a journalist in Azerbaijan previously, and now here, how different it has been for you?
I had great expectations coming here from Azerbaijan as I believed in the power of free media here and I was hopeful for the successful practice of my journalism skills. At this stage however, I cannot say my expectations and hopes hold true any longer.
What we see happening to media freedom in Turkey today is a blow to the future of press freedom and freedom of expression. It is risk for the future of a pluralistic democracy in Turkey. I think in this regard, Turkey and Azerbaijan being sibling nations really holds true.