The Turkish government on Monday accused associates of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen in the Turkish police and the judiciary of eavesdropping on thousands of people, including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has accused rivals in the influential Gulen group of acting as a “state within a state” seeking to topple the Turkish government by instigating a high-level corruption investigation against close allies.
On Monday, pro-government dailies Yenisafak and Star said classified documents revealing the surveillance were discovered by new prosecutors appointed after a mass purge of the police and Turkish prosecution service in the wake of the corruption probe launched in December last year.
Cabinet ministers, the country’s head of intelligence and journalists were among the targets, according to the reports, which government spokesman Bulent Arinc confirmed to journalists.
“This a sad and shocking event. The public is following this closely,” he said.
Media sympathetic to Gulen quoted his lawyer Nurullah Albayrak as saying the allegations were “unfair.
“The only purpose of this situation is to incite hatred and division,” Albayrak said.
One of the former prosecutors, Adnan Cimen, also denied that anything illegal had taken place.
“These allegations are entirely without foundation. Not a single illegal operation was authorized,” Cimen said to newspaper Milliyet.
The Star reported that so-called “Gulenists” had wiretapped more than 7,000 people, as well as the headquarters of the opposition Republic People’s Party (RPP), since 2011 on the pretext of trying to uncover terrorism plots.
Turkish Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz said that he had been wiretapped, adding: “This is no longer a problem just for the [ruling] AK Party.”
Turkish National Intelligence Organization Undersecretary Hakan Fidan and one of his close allies were also among those targeted, along with many businesspeople, activists and journalists, according to the newspaper reports.
Faruk Logoglu, a vice president of the RPP who was reportedly one of those targeted, dismissed the claims as an attempt by Erdogan to “support his rhetoric about a parallel state that he uses against the Gulen movement.”
The corruption scandal has thrown up one of the most serious challenges to Erdogan’s 11 years in power ahead of key local elections next month.
The mass eavesdropping reports come as the Turkish parliament began debating a new bill aimed at giving the intelligence agency a free hand in carrying out undercover missions and surveillance at home and abroad — without the need for a court order.
Erdogan has come under fire for what critics see as increasingly authoritarian policies, including curbs on the judiciary and the Internet.