Prosecutor’s office to hear journalists under Feb. 28 coup probe

Prosecutor’s office to hear journalists under Feb. 28 coup probe

A coalition government led by a now-defunct conservative party was forced to step down by the military on Feb. 28, 1997. Not only were fatal blows dealt to fundamental rights and freedoms after the coup, but democracy and the rule of law were also suspended. (Photo: Today's Zaman)

September 19, 2012, Wednesday/ 17:18:00

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office has decided to hear the testimonies of a number of journalists as part of the ongoing investigation into the Feb. 28, 1997 unarmed military coup, according to a story published by the Taraf daily.

Taraf reported on Tuesday that the office has summoned journalists Sedat Ergin, Fatih Çekirge and Dinç Bilgin as well as several other columnists and reporters to testify as part of the investigation. Earlier this month, the spokesman of the parliamentary Coup and Memorandum Investigation Commission announced that the commission will hear the testimonies of media bosses and newspaper editors-in-chief who served at the time of the Feb. 28 coup as part of its investigation into the coup.

According to Taraf, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office asked the journalists to visit the office to give their testimony later this week. It was not immediately clear if the journalists had agreed to comply. The office is reportedly planning to ask the journalists about the news reports that they prepared in the run-up to the Feb. 28 coup.

When asked to comment by Today's Zaman, the reporters cited in the news story said that they had not yet been served with a summons to appear to give a deposition at the prosecutor's office. Ergin's office in İstanbul said the journalist, who was the Ankara bureau chief of the Hürriyet daily at the time, had not received an official notification to appear at the prosecutor's office but was familiar with the news story. Çekirge, then editor-in-chief of the Star daily, was not available for comment as he was on a trip abroad.

Bilgin also confirmed the absence of a summons but said he was the media boss of the Sabah daily at the time and did not interfere in decisions made by editorial staff in order to use headlines for a particular purpose. However, he said he will appear at the parliamentary Commission to Investigate Coups and Military Memorandums on Oct. 4 to give his version of events of what happened during the Feb.28 postmodern coup.

The military overthrew a coalition government -- the Welfare Party (RP)-True Path Party (DYP) government -- on Feb. 28, 1997, citing allegedly increasing fundamentalist activities in the country as the reason. The military traditionally considers itself the guardian of the secular order in Turkey.

Many say some newspapers had a major impact on the military in its decision to overthrow the government in the run-up to Feb. 28 through fabricated news items about an increasing trend of fundamentalism in the country. The prosecutor's office is expected to ask the journalists about the news pieces they prepared before the staging of the coup.

Taraf also said the office will ask the journalists what they recollect about Müslüm Gündüz, a leader of the Aczimendi brotherhood, and Fadime Şahin.

Gündüz was involved in a scandal that shook Turkey in late 1996 during the run-up to the Feb. 28 coup. He was arrested by police on Dec. 28, 1996 in a house in İstanbul, where he was found with Şahin, a 22-year-old female student. The investigation resulted in allegations by Şahin of being shared sexually among the group's leaders. The first indictment into a criminal organization known as Ergenekon claimed this scandal had been purposefully staged to incite public distrust of religious leaders.

Prosecutors are also expected to ask the journalists about the rolling of military tanks through Sincan in a show of power days before the Feb. 28 coup. This act was interpreted as an “open warning” to the government of the time. The tanks rolled through Sincan in the early morning hours on Feb. 4. The tanks were ordered to repeat this a second time later the same day to give journalists, who were unable to take photographs the first time, the opportunity to snap some photos.

Headscarved teachers file criminal complaint

In the meantime, a group of headscarved teachers have filed a criminal complaint at the Ankara Courthouse against the stagers of the Feb. 28 coup.

The teachers were banned from teaching at public schools for wearing the headscarf after Feb. 28, 1997. Fatma Akdoğan, who spoke on behalf of the group, said she was disbarred without any investigation even taking place.

“I was a math teacher. It was my 14th year in the profession. They disbarred me without even launching an investigation. They also expelled my husband, who was a noncommissioned officer, from the military. I want the state authorities to give me my rights back and reinstate me as a teacher," she said.