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Turkish authorities on Monday raided the offices of the magazine Nokta and seized copies of the publication’s 18th issue, which featured a mocked-up photo of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the cover.

Officials have accused the magazine of insulting the Turkish president and “propagating terror” with the image, which features a grinning President Erdoğan taking a “selfie” in front of a coffin of a soldier killed during recent clashes with the Kurdish militant group PKK. According to the magazine’s own account, prosecutors ordered the raid hours after the cover page had been posted on social media.

In order to shed some light on the incident, IPI contributor Çağla Zimmermann spoke with Nokta’s editor-in-chief, Cevheri Güven.

IPI: Could you please tell us a little about the background of Nokta magazine?

Güven: Nokta magazine was established by Ercan Arıklı following the 12 September 1980 military coup and since its establishment, the magazine has always had a tremendous impact though its cover pages…. Despite the military coup, we were from the beginning a magazine that was able to criticize both military generals, civilians and various institutions….

In 2007, the magazine was re-published by Alper Görmüş and I was at that time working in the magazine’s Ankara office. Because the magazine itself was beginning to be criticized around this time, the pressure from the government began to increase as well. As a result, the prosecutors ordered our computers and digital materials to be confiscated and that the magazine could no longer be published. Around May 2015, we began to publish again, after the magazine had been purchased by Ramazan Kose, and since then 18 issues were published continuously. As with the first issues under Ercan Arıklı, Nokta today remains the most influential news magazine in Turkey that takes attention mainly through its critical cover pages.

IPI: Why did you decide to use this photo?

Güven: Turkey is going through a time of conflict and in this environment it is not possible to escape the political agenda. In a very short time, we have had close to one hundred soldiers and almost the same number of civilians killed. We have an image of Turkey where the mothers are forced to keep their dead children in freezers, awaiting to be buried. Of course, we cannot avoid this situation.

Meanwhile, President Erdoğan has stated to the families of dead soldiers that they should suppress their reactions. Among those statements, the most important one that caught our attention, was that one should be happy about the possibility of dying as a martyr and that the parents should not overreact. You know that when people take a selfie, they place the item that they are happy about in the background. Therefore, we criticized President Erdoğan with a photo that apparently is humorous.

It may be that the level of our criticism was high and disturbing, but that is the tradition of Nokta magazine. Moreover, such harsh criticism is covered by press freedom. Both Turkish and international law guarantee us this freedom. However, whereas the court documents in support of the raid first referred to the accusation that we insulted the president; the accusation of preparing terrorist propaganda was later added in handwriting and they confiscated the 18th issue of the magazine and prevented it from being distributed.

IPI: Did the idea of a police raid cross your mind when you decided to use the photo on your cover page?

Güven: Of course the media has for long been suppressed in Turkey and this recently showed itself in a direct attack on Hürriyet newspaper. One week before that, there was a police raid accompanied by finance officers against Ipek Media Group. We were therefore expecting something to happen….

We have taken a risk but we did not expect that laws would be that openly violated, that a magazine would be confiscated while it was in the process of being printed and that a national magazine would be stigmatised with the terrorism label. What would have happened if we had expected it? We would still have published this cover page because in today’s atmosphere, there could not be any stronger cover page.

IPI: What are your opinions on the accusations of insulting the president and propagating terror? Which “terror organisation” are you being accused of associating with?

Güven: Yes, we asked the prosecutor the same question. If you look at the decision to confiscate, it was written for the accusation of insulting the president. However, during that night, they realised that the decision could not be based on this accusation alone. They therefore added in handwriting the accusation of propagating terror. As regards that accusation, the prosecutor has only seen our cover page for the new issue, which we shared on social media a day before in order to advertise it. There is no emblem or symbol of a terrorist organization. There is also no photo of a leader of a terrorist organization; in short, nothing related to terrorist organizations….

Our lawyers openly asked the prosecutor why it says in handwriting “propagating terror” and which terrorist organization this concerns. The prosecutor did not answer this. It also did not say in the actual decision; this is a mystery. Because, if they write it down, we have many tools to defend ourselves legally. So they are also preventing us from doing that. The overall situation is the application of a decision which was pre-made in an uncertain atmosphere.

IPI: It seems that the court approval for the raid came very fast, the print copies of your magazine were pulled off the shelves and your official website was blocked. What would you say about this?

Güven: They apply the law like this: normally, a decision to confiscate should be made by the court. However, they start pulling the magazine from the shelves with a prosecutorial decision. The magazine is confiscated, seized, taken from the print offices and distribution companies. Copies of the magazine were already sent to distant sub-distributors and the police, in defiance of their actual job, began to collect those copies from sellers. Right now, our magazine is seized, we cannot use our official website, we are using our Twitter account but slowly, from different regions, we get the news that it is also blocked. We have objections to all of these measures.

They are deliberately slowing down the legal process. Even if the court would have rejected the confiscation decision, the copies of our magazine were already seized….

IPI: What do you think that this police raid means for the opposition media in Turkey and what do you think is the main reason for this rapid and somehow rushed process?

Güven: With this police raid, we have entered a new phase and it is: firstly, insulting the president is accepted as a terrorism crime. Secondly, in the past they were pleading cases against critical publications, like heavy compensation, criminal cases, also putting pressure on media owners to sack journalists and accusations of tax fraud against media groups and censoring broadcasts. However, recently they started to prevent publications from reaching their readers.

Also, this suppression shows itself in the decisions of confiscation and in the prevention of distribution companies receiving the magazines. This process will however reflect on the newspapers as well, there will be an environment in which the newspapers will no longer be able to publish; even the television channels might in the future be taken off the Türksat satellite. Such that the writers close to [the Justice and Development Party (AKP)] already give open statements such as which television channel should be taken off the satellite and which newspaper should be seized.

After seeing the cover page, some AKP PMs and pro-AKP writers wrote about the necessity of seizing our magazine and arresting the responsible individuals. Following these statements, the prosecutor acted within a couple of hours. So we have entered a phase where the media as a whole will be silenced.

Right now, the AKP has based its whole strategy on the nationalists’ votes. And in the war that again started in Turkey, the parents of killed soldiers are reacting unpredictably. Those parents are no longer saying “long live the homeland”. Instead they are questioning why their children are dying following the election on 7 June 2015. When this is widely covered by the media, it increases the anger against AKP. Therefore, when we reflected that on our cover page, it became even clearer that we are in a situation of silencing all media outlets which are questioning the reactions of those parents and those responsible for the war. This is a massive clean-up operation by the AKP to avoid losing any nationalist votes, which consist of the base of its election strategy.

IPI: Finally, would you like to raise any further issue regarding press freedom in Turkey?

Güven: Press freedom in Turkey is regressing with every day. It seems that especially until the elections of 1 November 2015, the blockage of the press will continue to increase. However, journalists in such situations of suppression have to show their real posture and Nokta magazine with its editorial and managing staff is determined to do this.

When we look at the Turkish media coverage of the police raid against our magazine, one can see that the Turkish press, despite the suppression, has a certain level of solidarity and I am happy about that. In addition, we had important support from international media as well as from the opposition parties in Turkey. I think that if this togetherness continues in order to protect the rights and freedoms of every citizen in Turkey, the continued suppression of the press will somehow come to an end.

Note: This article has been shortened for space; the full version may be downloaded here.