Tuesday morning the Turkish finance ministry’s crimes investigation board (MASAK), escorted by masked police forces, raided the headquarters of the IPEK media group along with 22 other locations tied to its parent company the Koza-Ipek holding. Six people were arrested during the raids and a warrant has been issued for chairman Akin Ipek, whose house was raided as well. The Koza-Ipek holding is active in various sectors including mining, media and energy. Government-critical daily newspapers Bugün and Millet, as well as TV stations BugünTV and Kanaltürk are subsidiaries of the holding. The raids were conducted on the authorities’ suspicion of Koza-Ipek providing financial support and “the disseminating of propaganda” to the “Gulenist Terrorist Group”. With elections coming up in November, many of Erdogan’s critics fear that this raid is yet another step by the Turkish government to silence the media in a bid to strengthen the rule of the ruling Justice and Development Party ( AKP) and weaken Erdogan’s rival Fethullah Gulen.
Monday’s raid comes after a long period of crackdowns by the Turkish government on journalists and media outlets. This is the second time since late last year, when dozens of people were detained by the police and some were charged on terrorism-related counts, that media outlets were raided on suspicion of ties to Gulen. In the past seen as an ally to Erdogan, Gulen was blamed in 2013 by the authorities for corruption allegations against Erdogan and his close circle, leading to a “war” against him. Since then a number of penal courts of peace have been established, a project initiated by then prime minister Erdogan. In many courts new judges have been appointed by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, an institution often criticized for acting under the influence of the AKP. The search warrant for Tuesday’s raids were issued through one of these penal courts of peace, by judge Mustafa Corumlu, who replaced a government-critical colleague this March.
With many incidents of intimidation of critical journalists and media outlets, Erdogan’s critics fear for the growing influence of the “pool media”, which consists of media outlets who spread AKP propaganda. This name refers to the “pool of funds” that are donated to the AKP in return for “favors in the form of public tenders”. Many worry that today’s raid is another step towards less freedom of press in Turkey. According to Koza-Ipek’s chairman Ipek the suspicions against him and his company are “empty” and “a total fantasy”. Bugün TV news editor Arkan Akkus suspects that the authorities are “testing the waters” with the aim to “silence the opposition media” ahead of the November elections. It is noteworthy that the raid happened just after Koza-Ipek-owned newspaper Bugün printed photos allegedly showing a weapon transfer to ISIS from the Turkish border.
While the raid might have been expected to silence journalists and media outlets, that certainly has not happened so far. One of Turkey’s biggest newspapers, Sözcü, carried no news articles on the frontpage today and headlined “if Sözcü is silent, Turkey is silent”. The editorial office of Bugün newspaper posted a picture on social media, upholding signs that read “Bugün will not be silenced”, “Free media cannot be silenced” and “the truth is free”. The editor-in-chief of Zaman said on national TV that Turkey is “facing the loud, approaching steps of fascism”.
The Turkish minister of EU affairs, coming from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) stated that the raids “cannot be justified” and pointed out that such actions would create “great concern” in other countries about the state of the democracy in Turkey. US state department spokesman Mark Toner responded in accordance by urging Turkey to “uphold democratic values”, which includes freedom of press. The EU’s foreign service called for an “independent and transparent” investigation. Tuesday’s raids come a day after two British journalists working for new organization VICE, who were detained while doing their jobs in the east of Turkey, were formally charged with engaging in terrorist activities.