The ongoing debate over the detention of prominent journalists as part of the Ergenekon investigation brought an obscure power struggle back to the agenda with President Abdullah Gul’s intrusion in the ongoing judicial case.
“The Ergenekon investigation deviated from its course and turned into a tool of oppression. He [President Gul] may have been disturbed by this,” Ahmet Ersin, a member of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee from the ranks of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday.
President Gul warned the judges and the prosecutors to be more careful and in a way not to hurt people’s dignities while doing their jobs. “My observation is that there are some developments that are not approved in the people’s conscience. This casts a shadow on Turkey’s appreciated picture. I am concerned about this,” Gul said in a statement he made to daily Milliyet over the weekend.
Gul’s statement triggered a response from Zekeriya Oz, the prosecutor working on the Ergenekon case, who denied reports that journalists were detained because of their journalism work. The statement came Sunday a few hours after investigative journalists Ahmet ??k and Nedim ?ener were sent to Metris Prison alongside with other detainees.
According to the indictment submitted by Oz, the alleged Ergenekon gang was established by high-ranking generals, university rectors and academics, journalists, civil society activists and other prominent personalities to topple the government in 2003 and 2004. More than 500 people have been imprisoned without conviction as part of the Ergenekon probe, which was revealed by the police in 2007. The detention and prison conditions of the Ergenekon suspects continue to be a matter of criticism against the government.
For Atilla Kart, a CHP deputy and member of the Constitution Committee of Parliament, the Ergenekon investigation is a co-product of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the Fethullah Gulen movement, a religious community. “The Gulen community has absolute control over the mechanisms of wiretapping, tracing and etc. It’s an uncontrollable entity that could hit whoever it wants, even the government,” Kart said.
‘PM responsible for detentions’
Describing the ongoing developments as a very dangerous process, Kart said President Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an have begun to worry about this fact and started to express their concern. “This also has links with an internal fight between the president and the prime minister over the presidential term of office,” Kart said. “But this goes on independently from the [Ergenekon] developments.”
The influence of the Gulen community over the these sort of political detentions was first visited following the arrest of Hanefi Avc?, a police chief who penned a book on the community’s links in the Police Department. Ahmet ??k, one of the recent detainees, was planning to publish a book on the same subject.
“Whoever is investigating something related with the community gets in trouble. The Ergenekon prosecutors pester the life out of them. Wasn’t it the prime minister who called himself the prosecutor of Ergenekon? Nothing can happen without the prime minister’s knowledge,” Ersin said.
Ersin said the president would be disturbed by this development because it would also degrade Turkey’s image in the world, and that was why he pushed the president to step in.
Government in defense
However, for Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, the president’s message was not only directed to judges and prosecutors but also to the media as well.
“He said it was everyone’s responsibility to preserve the freedom of the press and the democracy,” Ergin said. “He also said ‘I hope no journalists have engaged in non-journalism related affairs.’”
Ergin’s remarks were in line with prosecutor Oz’s statement when he defended the detention of journalists by arguing that there was some evidence against them, but he could not make it public due to the confidentiality of the investigation.
Fikret Bila, a columnist fro the daily Milliyet who interviewed Gul, said the president’s statement was his most important move since he was elected in 2008. “I know very well that he pays a lot of attention to the fact that Turkey has been shown as a model to all North African and Middle Eastern countries. That’s why he was disturbed that Turkey came to the fore because of shortcomings in the field of freedom of the press,” he said.
Fehmi Koru, a columnist for the daily Zaman, a newspaper known for having close ties to the Gulen movement, also criticized the detention of the journalists, according to the daily Vatan. “It seems that the latest wave is making fun of Ergenekon,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s meaningless to try to produce a guilty person out of an award-winning reporter and a journalist who is covering the Ergenekon case,” he said.