The European Union and the United States criticized Turkish police raids on media outlets close to a US-based Muslim cleric, which have led to the arrest of at least 24 people.
The operations against what President Tayyip Erdogan calls a terrorist network conspiring to topple him were incompatible with media freedom and ran counter to European values, Reuters quoted an EU official as saying. Turkey is applying for EU membership.
The US State Department, speaking “as Turkey’s friend and ally”, called on Turkish authorities to protect media freedom and other democratic values, the report said.
The raids on Zaman daily and Samanyolu television marked an escalation of Erdogan’s battle with former ally Fethullah Gulen, with whom he has been in open conflict since a graft investigation targeting Erdogan’s inner circle emerged a year ago. Both media outfits are close to Gulen, the spiritual leader of the Hizmet (“the service”) movement.
Arrest warrants had been issued for 31 people on charges of “establishing a terrorist group”, forgery and slander, Istanbul chief prosecutor Hadi Salihoglu said in a statement.
Among those arrested were Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, Samanyolu chairman Hidayet Karaca and two former police chiefs.
“This is a shameful sight for Turkey,” Karaca was quoted as saying. “Sadly in 21st Century Turkey this is the treatment they dish out to a media group with tens of television and radio stations, internet media and magazines.”
Erdogan, whose AK Party was elected in 2002, introduced many democratic reforms in his first years in power and curbed army involvement in politics. NATO allies often cited Turkey as an example of a successful Muslim democracy, but more recently critics have accused Erdogan of intolerance of dissent and, increasingly, a divisive reversion to Islamist roots.
Alluding to Gulen’s Hizmet movement and the raids, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a meeting of his ruling AK Party in southeast Turkey those who “infiltrate state institutions” should expect to give account for their actions.
“Those who prepare dossiers against the prime minister of a government … who came to power with the national will shall give account before the people and history,” he said, attacking those who “declared war on the government in the guise of ‘service’”.
Main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told reporters: “This is a coup government. A coup is being carried out against democracy”.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of establishing a parallel structure in the state through his supporters in the judiciary, police and other institutions, while wielding influence through the media, the report said.
The cleric, living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies any ambition to overthrow Erdogan.
Erdogan drew on Gulen’s influence among police and judiciary in his first years of power to help tame an army that had toppled four governments since 1960, including Turkey’s first Islamist-led cabinet. That relationship has dramatically soured.
Erdogan, who consolidated his power further in moving from the prime minister’s office to the presidency in August, has described “Gulenists” in the past as terrorists and traitors.
– Contact us at [email protected]