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Turkey Arrests Journalist for Tweet Labeling Intel Head as Coup Suspect

The crackdown on journalists and media outlets with unfavorable outlooks towards the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues in Turkey, where a Hurriyet reporter has been arrested for tweeting a rumor that the head of Turkey’s intelligence agency had been a suspect in last month’s failed coup.

In a sign that Erdogan’s government is not only going after media outlets suspected of supporting Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen — whom Erdogan blames for organizing the failed coup attempt — Turkish officials have shut down a pro-Kurdish, left-leaning publication on suspicions of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terror organization.

Hurriyet‘s Arda Akın has been arrested on charges of “knowingly and willfully helping the Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ),” as the Turkish government reports to Gulen organizers who follow his Islamic “Hismet” movement. According to his own publication, Akın is being charged with reporting news detrimental to the government of Turkey — namely, that National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan had been made to testify as a suspect shortly following the failed coup attempt on July 15. Akın had previously been detained and interrogated shortly after the coup attempt, a sign that officials were preparing to arrest him and prevent him from continuing to report on national politics.

Hürriyet editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin stated that the newspaper believes “our friend has no relationship to any terror organization and his works are limited to legal journalism activities.”

The possibility of Fidan, one of Turkey’s most powerful figures, having ties to Gulen would have devastating consequences for Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) regime. Fidan is one of Erdogan’s closest allies and has a long track record as an enemy of Gulen supporters. Gulen allies in the Turkish government have gone so far as to accuse Fidan of having ties with the PKK in an attempt to have him removed from his position.

Shortly after rumors that Fidan may have ties to Gulen surfaced, Fidan himself began to appear in high-level meetings, perhaps in a display proving he remains trustworthy. Notably, Fidan attended a high-level cabinet meeting shortly after the coup attempt despite the head of MIT not being a cabinet-level position.

Akın’s arrest for sharing a report, rather than an opinion unfavorable to Erdogan, is reminiscent of the arrests and convictions of the heads of Cumhuriyet, a secularist newspaper that grew to international prominence after publishing a Turkish-language inset of the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul were sentenced to prison for reporting that the MIT had secretly shipped weapons to anti-Bashar Assad rebels in Syria. Minutes before his conviction, a gunman attempted to assassinate Dündar, though he failed.

Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government has shut down 131 media outlets and counting, including “three news agencies, 16 television channels, 23 radio stations and 45 newspapers.” Most are accused of having ties to Gulen. 68 journalists have been detained since July 15, as well.

Among the exceptions to the Gulenist arrests is Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish newspaper shut down on Tuesday. The publication, Reuters reports, “focuses on the conflict with Kurdish militants in Turkey’s southeast.” The government claims its coverage is too favorable to the PKK, accusing it of making “propaganda” for the terror group and acting as “it de facto news outlet.”

Hurriyet has been relatively safe from government retribution throughout the crackdowns, though its headquarters have come under attack from Erdogan supporters. On two occasions, Islamist mobs shouting “allahu akbar!” have taken to Hurriyet, throwing stones into its offices and demanding to be let in. An AKP representative was present at one of the attacks. Another Hurriyet journalist, the secularist columnist Ahmet Hakan, was hospitalized in October after being followed home and beaten by a gang of young men.

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