Turkish journalists held in raids amid government crackdown
Turkey detained more than two dozen people, including the editor of the country’s top-selling newspaper, in police raids on prominent anti-government media outlets and other opponents.
The move was strongly criticised by the European Union, which indicated progress on accession to the bloc could be adversely affected.
Sunday’s raids are one of the most explosive moves in the battle between Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, and Fethullah Gulen, a preacher and government ally-turned-enemy.
The state-controlled Anadolu news agency said that police “aimed to detain around 32 people in total in the ongoing operation, including senior police officers and media members”. As of Sunday afternoon, 25 people, over half of whom were police, had been detained in the raids, which took place in 13 provinces across the country.
“We are going through a process that would not happen in a healthy democracy,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s party. “Journalists being detained, newspapers and television stations being raided early in the morning — this is not a process that we can accept.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a campaigning group, said it was “deeply concerned about the mass detention of journalists”.
Turkey is officially a candidate to join the EU but Brussels and Washington have signalled increasing concern about the rule of law in the country.
The European Commission, in a statement released on Sunday, said the operation went against the European values and standards Turkey aspired to be part of. “We recall that any further step towards accession with any candidate country depends on the full respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights,” Brussels said.
The US state department called on Ankara “to respect the core values of media freedom, due process and judicial independence” and not to violate them.
The police raided Zaman, a Gulen-affiliated newspaper that says it has the biggest circulation in Turkey. But, in an early-morning televised stand-off, a ring of protesters initially prevented police from detaining Ekrem Dumanli, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, and several other leading journalists. Live television footage showed Mr Dumanli being taken into custody later as hundreds of supporters thronged around him.
Separately, Hidayet Karaca, the head of Samanyolu Media Group, which operates a Gulenist-affiliated television news channel, was detained, as were other staff from the network, including a soap-opera scriptwriter. Mr Karaca’s lawyer said soap opera dialogue was cited by police as a reason for the detentions.
Prosecutors said that warrants had been issued on charges such as forgery, fabricating evidence and setting up a terrorist organisation that sought to seize control of the state.
“Today is a test day,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, the prime minister. “Everybody in the country will be held to account or awarded for what they did and their stance towards democracy.”
The arrests come just before the anniversary of a December 17 2013 corruption probe into government-connected figures, which Mr Erdogan says was a Gulenist coup attempt. The movement furiously denies the claim.
Until the rupture between the Gulenists and the Islamist-rooted government, large numbers of Mr Gulen’s supporters entered Turkey’s police, prosecution service and judiciary.
In a characterisation the Gulenists deny, Mr Erdogan now labels the movement a “parallel state” taking orders from Mr Gulen’s headquarters in Pennsylvania. Government supporters depict it as a cult and virtual intelligence agency — a reference to widespread eavesdropping and surveillance for which Ankara blames the Gulenists.
In late October the government designated the movement a national security threat and this month an Ankara court approved charges over the wiretapping of Mr Erdogan’s office when he was prime minister.
Ankara, in its drive to beat back the Gulenists and the associated charges of corruption, has this year moved thousands of police officers and prosecutors from their posts, shaken up the judiciary, sought to ban YouTube and Twitter and passed a clutch of new laws that have increased executive powers.
The corruption charges have since been dropped and Mr Erdogan says seemingly incriminating recordings of himself and his circle were the product of a “montage”. In a speech on Friday aimed at the Gulenists, the president said he would “overthrow this network of treason” and venture into his enemy’s “lairs”.
Some critics of the Gulenists highlight that the movement had previously supported the detention of journalists when those arrested were opponents of Mr Gulen.
The Gulenists championed high-profile political trials known as Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, in which evidence was widely alleged to have been fabricated and which are now in disarray following the split with Mr Erdogan.
“It’s not an attack on free media in Turkey,” Dani Rodrik, a leading economist whose father-in-law had been held in the Sledgehammer case, tweeted about Sunday’s detentions. “It’s a repressive government trying to crush an opponent who [would] do the same, and in fact tried.”
But Ahmet Sik, a journalist previously imprisoned for having written a critical book about Mr Gulen, labelled Sunday’s raids “fascism”.
Additional reporting by Funja Guler