A state-run news agency in Turkey reported Friday that police had issued warrants for four employees, including the owner and chief website editor, of a secularist publication accused of ties to Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, the latest incident in a string of crackdowns on objective and anti-government media in the country.
The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that the officials running the newspaper Sozcu reportedly kept ties to the “Hizmet” Islamic movement that Gulen, who is based in Pennsylvania, leads.
The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of having organized a failed coup against Erdogan in July 2016, accusations Gulen has steadfastly denied. The Turkish government refers to Hizmet, which consists of a network of international charter schools, as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO). Erdogan and Gulen were once close political allies.
Anadolu reports that Mediha Olgun, Sozcu’s website manager, is in custody, while owner Burak Akbay had left the country and remains at large.
Anadolu makes the notable distinction that the newspaper’s employees stand accused of “committing crimes on behalf of FETO even though they are not group members.” Reuters notes that among the official charges against these suspects is an “armed rebellion against the government of the Turkish Republic,” implying they played a role in the July coup attempt.
Sozcu editor-in-chief Metin Yilmaz has denied any criminal allegations against his colleagues. “The only thing we do is journalism. But doing that in this country is a crime in itself… Writing the truth, criticizing and doing stories are all crimes,” he said in a statement.
Deutsche Welle lists the other two employees for which the police have drafted warrants as reporter Gokmen Ulu and financial executive Yonca Kaleli, citing CNN Türk. The publication adds that, despite Anadolu’s reporting, the newspaper’s attorney says he has no evidence of a warrant for arrest being issued against his clients.
The known evidence that the newspaper, which publishes reports with a secularist/anti-Islamist bent, supports the Islamic cleric Gulen appears thin.
Sabah, a newspaper friendly to the Erdogan government, reported that the reason for the crackdown on Sozcu is an article by Ulu in which the paper alleged to know Erdogan’s secret location during the July coup attempt. Erdogan famously addressed the nation from an undisclosed location during the coup using the Apple application Facetime, in a move that assured supporters he had not been killed and had not fled the country.
Deutsche Welle suggests that the Sozcu article in question revealed only “where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was spending his holiday in the Aegean resort town of Marmaris… By the time the coup attempt took place, Erdogan had left the location.”
Yeni Safak, a Turkish newspaper that also publishes stories favorable to Erdogan, confirmed that the story in question was published before the failed coup, though specifying that the charges against Ulu were related to that article.
None of these reports explain what link allegedly exists between the article in question, those arrested, and Fethullah Gulen.
The arrests occur on Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day, a national holiday in Turkey to honor the secularist founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The leader of the party Atatürk founded, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), visited the offices of Sozcu Friday to stand in solidarity with the publication.
“Sozcu is a newspaper everyone reads, a newspaper that does not bow to repression – therefore a newspaper that does not like power. They are true journalists… the arrest of journalists and pressure on newspapers is a situation that no democracy will accept,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu affirmed in remarks during his visit.
The CHP has stood alongside other secularist publications that have received similar police attention in the past. Among the highest-priority enemies for the Erdogan government in media are the staff of Cumhuriyet, a secularist newspaper.
As of April, the Turkish government has indicted nineteen Cumhuriyet employees, from its former editor-in-chief to its cafeteria cook, for alleged ties to both Gulen and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist U.S.-designated terrorist group.
Cumhuriyet is reporting on the Sozcu arrests on their front page Friday and continue to publish anti-Erdogan material despite the arrests and departure of former editor-in-chief Can Dündar, in exile in Europe after an assassination attempt at the courthouse where he was being processed.
The CHP has condemned “fascist attempts” to silence Cumhuriyet and other media outlets allegedly tied to terrorist groups.
Following the July coup attempt, Erdogan’s government has jailed dozens of journalists and shut down over one hundred media outlets they claim to have ties to coup conspirators, Gulen, or both. The government shut down 131 media outlets overnight in July 2016 and has since placed entire media corporations on lockdown.