Turkish police arrested the editor in chief of the country’s largest daily newspaper, the head of a television station and more than two dozen others Sunday for being affiliated with U.S.-based dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen.
A Turkish judge ordered 31 people arrested, including former police officials and journalists linked to Gulen, a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has sought to extradite him for trying to stage a coup.
Erdogan, who has pursued an Islamist agenda, recently vowed to crack down on Gulen’s followers, saying, “We will bring down this network and bring it to account.”
Gulen has denied the allegations and called for interfaith harmony in Turkey, but also criticized Erdogan’s ruling conservative Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish abbreviation, AKP.
Sunday’s arrests, carried out in thirteen provinces across the country, came after an anonymous whistle-blower tweeted that Turkish police were expected to target hundreds of people, including journalists. Late Saturday night, hundreds of protesters had gathered at the Istanbul offices of Zaman newspaper, Turkey's largest daily, fearing arrests were imminent. One Zaman journalist had already fled the country; another faced lawsuits from the president’s relatives for critical tweets.
In an interview with The Times hours before he was arrested on live television, Zaman's editor in chief, Ekrem Dumanli, said his paper was being targeted because it had helped expose the ruling party's corruption.
“There are two kinds of media groups in Turkey now, unfortunately: one directly controlled by the government, by the [AKP] party...and then there are some newspapers, like Zaman, Taraf, and Cumhuriyet, who are not listening to the government, who are doing their job,” he said, “And the government is very angry.”
According to his lawyer, Dumanli is accused of fabricating evidence, forging official documents, and forming a criminal organization.
Zaman has released a number of critical reports based on audio recordings of Erdogan, relatives and top AKP officials that implicate him in a scandal that led three cabinet ministers to resign and to charges being filed against nearly a hundred people.
Shortly after Zaman and other outlets broke the corruption probe news a year ago, the AKP government launched its own probe of judges and police involved in the investigation, firing hundreds.
“Turkish authorities, who have a history of politicized prosecutions against the media, do not tolerate critical reporting,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, “The heavy-handed actions this morning smack of political vengeance.”
Those detained Sunday will be charged with setting up an organization to seize power in Turkey using pressure, slander and threats, the Istanbul prosecutor’s office told state-run Anadolu news agency.
Special correspondent Farooq reported from Istanbul. Staff writer Hennessy-Fiske reported from Baghdad.