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Erdogan crackdown targets soap opera 16 décembre 2014

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK) 16 December 2014, p. 1 & 10

By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul and Funja Guler in Ankara

A battle between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former-ally-turned-foe Fethullah Gulen took a dramatic turn with the arrest of police officers, media figures and soap opera scriptwriters.

p. 10

Erdogan-Gulen dispute: Soap opera crackdown adds twist to storyline

A battle that has shaken Turkey’s politics, rocked financial markets and undermined the rule of law has reached new levels of melodrama with the detention of not only police officers and media figures but scriptwriters of a soap opera, too.

The arrests of about 30 people on Sunday were the latest twist in the bitter conflict between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s paramount leader, and Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher and former Erdogan ally turned arch-foe.

According to government supporters, Mr Gulen’s activities also extend to the seditious script editing of soap operas.

Widespread international outcry followed Sunday’s raids, with much attention focused on the detention of figures such as Ekrem Dumanli, editor of the Gulen-affiliated Zaman newspaper, which claims to have the biggest circulation in Turkey, and Hidayet Karaca, the head of the Samanyolu Media Group, which operates a Gulenist television channel.

The EU warned that the arrests went against European values and could affect the progress of Turkey’s membership bid. After Mr Erdogan replied that the bloc should « mind its own business », the lira hit a low of TL2.39 to the dollar, a 4 per cent drop on the day before recovering marginally.

But both police officers and journalists have been imprisoned in Turkey on numerous occasions; an unprecedented feature of Sunday’s raids was the detention of 10 people, including Mr Karaca, for producing soap operas for the Samanyolu television channel.

Those arrested included scriptwriters, directors, a graphic designer and other staff. According to Fikret Duran, Mr Karaca’s lawyer, six remained in custody last night. Their detention highlighted the breadth of the Gulenist movement and the lengths to which Mr Erdogan appears ready to go to crack down on it.

« It is the first time they have had this kind of allegation in Turkey – that a soap opera, a fiction, can itself be a crime, » says Ceren Sozeri at Istanbul’s Galatasaray University. « It is incredible: it is very dangerous for the freedom of the press and of art in Turkey. »

Government officials depict Mr Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvani a, as exercising the utmost control over his alleged empire, which includes schools, universities, charities, a bank and media assets. Despite Gulenist assertions of editorial and creative independence, government officials say Mr Gulen gives the final approval to Zaman’s front page and to the main headlines of Samanyolu’s news.

In portraying a workaholic control freak obsessed by his own coverage, those government officials come close to mirroring Mr Erdogan’s critics’ depiction of the president himself. Mysterious audio tapes have emerged on the internet in which both men, in turn, appear to be meddling in the media.

In one such tape, Mr Karaca appears to read Mr Gulen a soap opera script for his approval, in which the characters allege that a government crackdown on Gulenist cramming schools is part of an international terrorist plot.

More specifically, Sunday’s police raids focused on a now defunct soap opera, One Turkey , in which a rival Islamic group to Mr Gulen’s – known as the Annotators – was depicted as a terrorist organisation. The government says those references, made in April 2009, were part of a Gulenist campaign against the rival group – a campaign that allegedly began with a speech by Mr Gulen days before, included negative coverage in Zaman, and ended with mass arrests in 2010.

Mr Duran said the soap opera staff taken into custody on Sunday were being asked whether they, rather than Mr Gulen, had written the dialogue for the episodes concerned. « There is a grave campaign of slander going on, » Mr Duran said, referring to police accusations that the staff were part of an armed terrorist organisation seeking to overthrow the constitutional order.

Mr Erdogan said yesterday the push against the Gulenists would go on. « These people will be hunted in the lairs, inside the country and abroad as well, » he declared. « Nobody should shed crocodile tears. » He said the country was in the process of « normalisation » – the reversal of Gulenist penetration in the police, judiciary and elsewhere.

Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, said: « Erdogan is so singularly focused on this fight that he doesn’t even seem to care about the international repercussions of how this appears to the outside world. »

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