In the latest in a string of media closures under Turkey’s ongoing state of emergency, police raided the studios of the television channel IMC-TV this week, dramatically shutting the station down in the middle of a live broadcast. The channel is just one of 38 television and radio stations taken off air since the failed coup of July 15.
The closure of IMC-TV was widely anticipated after the channel became one of several removed from the TURKSAT national satellite on September 30, but had continued broadcasting over a French owned satellite and online.
However, with the intervention of the police and officials from the Radio and Television Supreme Council, IMC-TV’s assets have now been seized on the grounds of broadcasting “terrorist propaganda”.
These accusations come in the context of the failed coup attempt, allegedly led by the so-called Fethullah Gülen Terror Organisation (FETO), against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In the aftermath, President Erdoğan has been granted emergency powers, which he has used to enact a series of wide-ranging decrees and sweeping purges in the name of countering terrorism.
Supporters argue that such measures are necessary to secure democracy against those who sought to overthrow it by infiltrating public and private institutions, in reference to Fethullah Gülen’s followers. But critics claim that the government is increasingly taking advantage of the situation to stifle opposition voices, particularly those of minority groups.
Why are Kurdish agencies being targeted?
The outlets targeted in the latest round of closures overwhelming catered to Kurdish and Alevi audiences. And IMC-TV in particular built a reputation for airing views often excluded by mainstream media, including hiring the nation’s first transgender presenter.
The channel has however been consistently accused of acting as a mouth-piece of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed as a terrorist organisation. IMC-TV has come under increasing pressure since August last year, when clashes between the PKK and state security forces resumed with renewed vigour after period of peace negotiations.
A series of interviews conducted with high-ranking PKK figures have proved particularly controversial, and now form the basis of the case against the station. However, in a written statement, IMC-TV said that, “it was a journalistic responsibility to report and reflect the views of both sides [of the conflict] to the public at a time when hopes for a resolution were high.”
Speaking to Independent Turkey, Hamza Aktan, IMC-TV’s News Editor, claimed it was the station’s coverage of alleged human rights violations, once violence had begun to escalate again, that had made it a government target.
“Around 20 Kurdish cities destroyed, hundreds of people were killed, thousands of people were detained… the only channel successfully covering this was IMC-TV.”
“If you look at the list of closed TV channels, most are based in Diyarbakir or other Kurdish cities. My concern after this development is that people living in Turkey, and people living in Europe and the US, will not be able to see human rights violations. The government will be more comfortable to do whatever it wants in the Kurdish regions,” Aktan said.
However, speaking to Al Jazeera, Talip Kucukcan, an MP for the ruling AKP argued that “Turkey is facing the aftermath of a coup attempt, and frequent terror attacks by ISIL and the PKK. A country that has lost more than 500 soldiers and hundreds of its citizens in a short time cannot tolerate individuals, organisations, and media outlets praising the culprits of these crimes.”
“France is also going through a state of emergency. The loss that country suffered from terrorism is in no comparison to Turkey.”
But Aktan, as well as other prominent journalists and human rights organisations such as PEN International claim that the government has used the state of emergency, and the legal vacuum that entails, as a tool to silence opposition.
“It allows the government to take actions without any judicial process. Before we would need a legal case against us, however, now the government can do whatever it wants, there is no control over its powers.”
“Prime Minister Yıldırım said [the state of emergency] is not against our people, it is against the state, because the coup attempt came from the state not the citizens. But unfortunately after just two months, we have seen that emergency law is being used against citizens, opposition parties, and independent media,” Aktan argued.
Following the closure of IMC-TV, hundreds demonstrated against the decision in Istanbul on Tuesday night, in one of the first popular protests since citizens flocked to the streets to oppose the coup and show solidarity with their government.
The government has already indicated that it will extend the state of emergency by a further three months once the initial 90-day period elapses on October 18. Under the Turkish constitution, a state of emergency can be invoked for a maximum period of six months, but the Presidenthas already indicated that it may need to be extended further.
This has fuelled widespread fears that emergency laws will continue to be used to quash dissent, particularly targeting pro-Kurdish outlets. The suspension of IMC-TV, as well as one of Turkey’s biggest pro-Kurdish newspapers, Özgür Gündem, comes at a time of heightened tension in the south-east and contributes to growing concerns over press freedom and press diversity in the country.
* Additional reporting by Independent Turkey staff.