October 22, 2016

Turkey detains more journalists in clampdown on cleric’s followers

Turkish journalist Nazli Ilicak is escorted by a police officer and her relatives after being detained and brought to a hospital for a medical check in Bodrum

Turkey ordered another 47 journalists detained on Wednesday, part of a large-scale crackdown on suspected supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Ankara of masterminding a failed military coup.

Turkey has suspended, detained or placed under investigation more than 60,000 soldiers, judges, teachers, journalists and others suspected of ties to Gulen’s movement since the July 15-16 coup, which was staged by a faction within the military.

Turkey’s army General Staff on Wednesday put the number of soldiers belonging to the Gulen network who took part in the coup attempt at 8,651, roughly about 1.5 per cent of the armed forces, broadcaster NTV reported.

Gulen has denied any involvement in the failed coup.

Turkey’s capital markets board said on Tuesday it had revoked the licence of the head of research at brokerage AK Investment and called for him to face charges over a report he wrote to investors analysing the July 15 coup.

Western governments and human rights groups, while condemning the abortive coup in which at least 246 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured, have expressed alarm over the extent of the crackdown, suggesting President Tayyip Erdogan may be using it to stifle dissent and tighten his grip on power.

The detention of journalists ordered on Wednesday involved columnists and other staff of the now defunct Zaman newspaper, a government official said. Authorities in March shut down Zaman, widely seen as the Gulen movement’s flagship media organisation.

“The prosecutors aren’t interested in what individual columnists wrote or said,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “At this point, the reasoning is that prominent employees of Zaman are likely to have intimate knowledge of the Gulen network and as such could benefit the investigation.”

However, the list includes journalists, such as Sahin Alpay, known for their leftist activism who do not share the religious world view of the Gulenist movement. This has fuelled concerns that the investigation may be turning into a witch-hunt of the president’s political opponents.

On Monday, media reported that arrest warrants had been issued for 42 other journalists, 16 of whom have so far been taken into custody.

Alpay is a former official of Turkey’s left-leaning, secularist main opposition CHP party. The Dogan news agency said police raided his home in Istanbul early on Wednesday and detained him after a 2-1/2 hour search of the property.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reviews a guard of honour as he arrives to the Turkish Parliament in Ankara
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reviews a guard of honour as he arrives to the Turkish Parliament in Ankara

Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party and opposition parties, usually bitterly divided, have demonstrated a rare spirit of unity since the abortive coup and are seeking consensus on constitutional amendments partly aimed at “cleansing” the state apparatus of Gulenist supporters.

A senior AK Party official said on Wednesday they were discussing plans to increase parliamentary control of a key state body that appoints judges and prosecutors.

Also on Wednesday a government official said Turkish special forces were still hunting in hills around the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris for a group of 11 commandos thought to have tried to capture or kill Erdogan on the night of the coup.

Erdogan was holidaying in Marmaris at the time and only narrowly avoided capture before flying to Istanbul where he rallied his supporters who helped to defeat the coup plotters.

Erdogan, a popular but polarising figure who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, will chair an annual meeting of the Supreme Military Council (YAS) on Thursday after vowing to restructure the armed forces following the coup.

The military said 35 planes, including 24 fighter jets, 37 helicopters, 74 tanks and three ships had been used by the coup plotters, NTV reported.

In Greece, authorities on Wednesday postponed hearings for eight Turkish soldiers who sought asylum there after fleeing Turkey. The men – three majors, three captains and two sergeant majors – deny being involved in the coup but Turkey has branded them “traitors” and is demanding their extradition.

Erdogan has signalled Turkey might restore the death penalty in the wake of the failed coup, citing strong public support for such a move, though the European Union has made clear this would scupper Ankara’s decades-old bid to join the bloc.


Turkish officials have complained of what they perceive as a lack of support from the EU over the coup, while European leaders have urged Ankara to show restraint and a sense of proportion in bringing those responsible to justice.

The attempted coup has also tested Turkey’s ties with its NATO ally the United States, where Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile since 1999. Responding to Turkey’s request for Gulen’s swift extradition, Washington has said Ankara must first provide clear evidence of his involvement in the coup.

The strains with the EU and the United States have coincided with Turkey’s renewed push to repair ties with Russia, badly hurt last November by the Turkish downing of a Russian jet near Syria and Moscow’s subsequent imposition of trade sanctions.

On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said his talks with Russian officials this week on improving bilateral relations had taken place “in a very positive atmosphere”.

Simsek, respected by Western investors as a safe pair of hands in guiding the Turkish economy, also said he saw no reason to downgrade Turkey’s credit rating following the coup. Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded the sovereign debt outlook to negative from stable and Moody’s has said it will review the rating for a possible downgrade.

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