Media chiefs held in swoop on Erdogan’s opponents

Published December 15, 2014
— Reuters/File
— Reuters/File

ISTANBUL: Turkish police on Sunday arrested the editor of the country’s biggest selling newspaper and at least two dozen other media figures in a new crackdown on supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s exiled rival, Fethullah Gulen.

At least 25 people were held in raids across Turkey, including Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of Zaman whose arrest in Istanbul was broadcast live on television.

The round-up came just two days after Mr Erdogan warned of a new blow against the “evil forces” of Mr Gulen, who the president accused of orchestrating a corruption probe almost exactly a year ago against members of his inner circle.


Arrest warrants issued for 32 people


Those held included an executive of Samanyolu television, also seen as close to Mr Gulen, as well as a TV director, producers, scriptwriters and some police officers. Arrest warrants were issued for a total of 32 people, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

Mr Erdogan has repeatedly vowed vengeance on Mr Gulen’s alleged “parallel state” within the police, media and judiciary and branded the massive corruption inquiry — which threatened to touch his own family — “an attempted coup”.

He warned on Friday he would “pursue them (Gulen’s supporters) in their lairs”.

“We are not just faced with a simple network, but one which is a pawn of evil forces at home and abroad,” he said.

“We will go into their lairs again. Whoever is beside them and behind them, we will bring down this network and bring it to account.”

Mr Gulen, 73, who lives in the United States, is the spiritual leader of the Hizmet movement, which controls media outlets, schools and cultural centres. He was a key backer of Mr Erdogan before falling out with him over the government’s plans to shut down his schools.

Hizmet has denied being behind the corruption probe, which dragged down four ministers and prompted a cabinet shake-up, posing the most serious challenge to Mr Erdogan’s government since it came to power in 2002.

Early on Sunday a huge crowd — made up of newspaper staff and readers — gathered outside Zaman’s offices on the outskirts of Istanbul, preventing the police from entering the building to make arrests.

But plainclothes officers returned a few hours later, detaining Mr Dumanli, as the crowd chanted: “The free press cannot be silenced.”

Hidayet Karaca, the head of Samanyolu TV, called the raids “a shameful sight for Turkey”, before he himself was detained elsewhere.

“Sadly in 21st century Turkey this is the treatment a media group with tens of television and radio stations, internet media and magazines receives.” Anatolia reported that the suspects were accused of a number of offences including “forming a gang to try and seize state sovereignty”.

As in almost all the previous raids — which mostly targeted police officers suspected of backing Mr Gulen — the details of the swoop were leaked by a mysterious Twitter user named Fuat Avni before it was even carried out.

Last week Fuat Avni, believed to be a government official, warned his followers that police were set to detain some 400 people, including 150 journalists. Late on Saturday, he went on to publish the names of those journalists, some of whom were among those rounded up.

Main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu denounced the operation as “a coup” that “we cannot accept under any circumstances”.

“The process that we are going through is not something faced in healthy democracies. This is a coup process,” he told reporters, vowing to be on the side of the victims.

In an apparent reference to Mr Gulen’s supporters, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday: “Today is a day of test. Everyone will pay for what they have done and their anti-democratic behaviour.”

Health Minister Mehmet Muezzingolu echoed Mr Davutoglu and said: “Turkey is a state of law. If someone does wrong, they pay a price.”

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2014

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