Specially authorized prosecutor Öz, who is overseeing the investigation into Ergenekon, a clandestine criminal network charged with plotting to overthrow the government, made a statement yesterday in the face of recent criticism that freedom of the press was being violated with the recent detentions of a group of journalists for suspected ties with the criminal network.
Responding to recent allegations that the detentions were aimed at punishing journalists because they wrote books or articles critical of the government, Öz said none of the journalists have been detained because of their opinions or the books they have written. Underscoring that that the detention of these individuals is a legal obligation based on evidence that cannot be made public for the time being, he said the prosecutor's office is working on the investigation “carefully” to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.
The arrest of two journalists who were among 10 individuals detained last week as part of the Ergenekon probe triggered allegations that freedom of the press was under threat in Turkey. The prosecutor overseeing the case, however, said they were detained due to strong evidence, not their actions as journalists
The prosecutor also lashed out some recent claims that the operation was carried out at the order of the government to silence the press. “Nobody can give orders to us,” Öz said.
“It is clear that alleging that our office is acting upon something other than legal requirements and manipulating the public with such groundless assessments not only damages the investigation we have been carefully conducting but also serves the goals of the terrorist organization in question,” he said.
Stating that prosecutors understand the principle of presumption of innocence, which holds that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that they act in accordance with it as fully as those who have been voicing criticism against the probe, Öz said: “However, it should not be forgotten that everyone is equal before the law. No one person or group of people can be granted privileges. Just as nobody can have the privilege to commit a crime, nobody can be treated differently because of his or her profession.”
Noting that the responsibility to make a decision on whether there is sufficient evidence or not to detain an individual belongs to prosecutors, Öz said it is worrisome that those who have no information about the probe have been accusing the prosecution since the beginning of the investigation.
On Thursday police searched the homes and offices of 11 people and detained 10 of them. Among the suspects whose premises were searched were Professor Yalçın Küçük, Odatv reporter Bayraktar, Odatv Ankara representative Mümtaz İdil, Odatv news coordinator Doğan Yurdakul, police officer Aydın Bıyıklı, journalists Müyesser Yıldız, Sait Çakır, Nedim Şener, Ahmet Şık and Coşkun Musluk, and former National Intelligence Organization (MİT) official Kaşif Kozinoğlu. Kozinoğlu was reported to be abroad at the time of the raid.
Şener and Şık were arrested on charges of links to the terrorist Ergenekon organization early Sunday. Five others, including Küçük, were also referred to court yesterday for arrest.
The two were referred to the Beşiktaş Courthouse on Saturday after a three-day detention by the police. They were interrogated by Ergenekon prosecutor Zekeriya Öz at the courthouse. Prosecutor Öz referred Şık and Şener to the court late Saturday, demanding their arrest. The İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court ruled to arrest the two early Sunday. The two journalists were sent to Metris Prison.
Odatv reporter İklim Kaleli Bayraktar and Aydın Bıyıklı, who were also detained on Thursday, were referred to the courthouse on Saturday as well but were released after their interrogation by prosecutor Öz. Bayraktar said as she was leaving the courthouse that “justice was served.”
Thursday’s raid followed an earlier police search at the offices of the neo-nationalist odatv.com news portal in İstanbul as a result of which three journalists were arrested last month. The raid was ordered by an İstanbul court at the request of Öz. Four administrators of the portal, including its owner, Soner Yalçın, were detained as a result of the search. The prosecutor reportedly questioned Şener and Şık about the documents seized in the Odatv raid.
According to news reports, a draft of a book by journalist Şık was seized from the computer of Odatv’s Yalçın. A notice reportedly written down by Yalçın read: “This book should absolutely be published before the [June parliamentary] elections. It should be more striking than Simons,” referring to jailed Police Chief Hanefi Avcı’s “Haliç’te Yaşayan Simonlar” (Simons in the Golden Horn.) In the book Avcı argues that the Ergenekon trial is a conspiracy run by the government to silence its critics but at the same time acknowledges he has no proof to back up these allegations. There were claims that Şık planned to name his book “İmamın Ordusu” (The Imam’s Army).
Journalist Şener is accused of working to clear gendarmerie officers of charges in one of his books. The book is titled “Dink Cinayeti ve İstihbarat Yalanları” (Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies). Hrant Dink was shot dead by an ultranationalist teenager in broad daylight in front of the offices of the bilingual Agos daily, where he was editor-in-chief. Two gendarmes are currently standing trial for having ignored warnings about the plot to kill Dink.