The Turkish government yesterday faced accusations of eroding democracy and press freedoms after more than two dozen people were arrested in raids against media critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The swoop on Sunday chiefly targeted a newspaper and television closely allied to the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, a onetime close ally of Erdogan who has become his arch enemy.
Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and is believed to have many followers and sympathizers in important positions in the Turkish police and judiciary.
Among a total of 27 people arrested in the nationwide raids were Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, which is closely linked to Gulen and Hidayet Karaca, the head of the pro-Gulen Samanyolu TV.
Turkish television said 24 suspects were still being questioned by Istanbul police yesterday.
The state Anatolia news agency said chief public prosecutor Hadi Salihoglu ordered the arrests on charges of forgery, fabricating evidence and “forming a crime syndicate to overtake the sovereignty of the state.”
Several police officers were also detained, including Tufan Erguder and Mutlu Ekizoglu, former heads respectively of the Istanbul anti-terrorism and organized crime police departments.
In an unusually strong joint statement, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn condemned the raids as “incompatible with the freedom of media.”
“This operation goes against the European values and standards Turkey aspires to be part of and which are the core of reinforced relations,” they said.
US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was “closely following” the developments.
“As Turkey’s friend and ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions do not violate these core values and Turkey’s own democratic foundations,” she said.
The Zaman newspaper itself headlined, “Black day for democracy,” in black fonts.
“Zaman will maintain its pro-democracy, pro-freedom and peaceful approach without any fear,” it said, warning that Turkey was being “dragged to a cliff.”
Commentator Abdulkadir Selvi in the pro-government Yeni Safak daily also criticized the arrests.
“I want to put it very clearly that the arrests of Ekrem Dumanli and Hidayet Karaca is wrong. I am objecting to the mistake, whoever made it,” Selvi wrote.
His view contrasted with the newspaper’s headline supporting the crackdown: “Time to give account.”
Hurriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan said raiding newspaper offices and arresting journalists dealt a “heavy blow” to democracy and freedom of expression.
However, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the Sabah daily that the suspects were detained “not because of their journalism activities.”
“The details of the investigation will be clarified during the judicial process,” Davutoglu said.
Karaca was summoned to Istanbul police headquarters on Sunday to testify on allegations that Samanyolu TV had tried to topple Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.
“Here’s the attitude toward an international media group with dozens of television stations, dozens of publications, dozens of radio stations not only at home, but also abroad,” Karaca said in a live broadcast as he left his home for the police headquarters.
“This is a shameful scene, now marked in our country’s history,” he said.
Erdogan, in a speech on Friday, vowed to pursue members of the so-called parallel structure, which he claimed challenged his rule with a corruption inquiry in December last year, as well as in other campaigns.
“We have gone into their lairs and we will go into them again,” Erdogan said in the televised speech in Ankara. “Whoever is beside them and behind them, we will bring down this network and bring it to account.”
Additional reporting by NY Times News Service
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