Detention warrants issued for Sözcü daily’s owner, 3 employees over alleged Gülen links

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has issued detention warrants for the owner of the leading opposition newspaper Sözcü as well as three of its employees over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Sözcü owner Burak Akbay, reporter Gökmen Ulu as well as newspaper’s website manager Melda Olgun and finance manager Yonca Kaleli are accused of making propaganda on behalf of the Gülen movement.

A report in the Cumhuriyet daily said on Friday that the reason for the investigation against Sözcü was its publishing a report on July 15 that aimed at revealing the whereabouts of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who was in the western holiday resort of Marmaris at the time.

One of the lawyers of the Sözcü, Celal Ülgen, told Cumhuriyet that the paper was informed about a search decision by the police but no detentions have taken place yet. He said there were ongoing police searches at the houses of Akbay and Ulu as of Friday morning.

According to a state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) the newspaper’s website manager, Mediha Olgun, was arrested by the police following the warrant which was issued at the request of the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s office. Owner Burak Akbay could not be arrested as he is currently abroad.  AA has also claimed that the suspects are accused of committing crimes on behalf of Gülen movement even though they are not the members of the movement.

Sözcü reporter Gökmen Ulu, who reported on the place where Erdoğan had holiday in Marmaris, was also detained in İzmir late Friday.

Journalist Uğur Dündar, who writes columns for Sözcü, criticized the operation against his newspaper from his Twitter account on Friday morning. He said if Sözcü is a supporter of the Gülen movement, then everyone in Turkey is a supporter of this movement.

Leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has lashed out the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for an operation against the leading opposition newspaper Sözcü which became public on Friday.

“We are faced with a dictatorial administration. The operation against Sözcü is an operation against Turkey,” Kılıçdaroğlu said as quoted by CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal.

In a statement, the Turkish Press Council described the warrant as “the example of a new kind of oppression.”

“It is understood that we are facing with an example of a new kind of oppression against journalists. We cannot comprehend the fact that May 19 [Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day] has been chosen as the day to act in an investigation that has been ongoing for the past 10 months. Normally, prosecutors can summon journalists to testify on regular days and can address any kind of question to them,” the Press Council stated.

The Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) also released a statement on the operation targeting Sözcü daily and declared “solidarity” with journalists working for the paper. “Journalism is a profession conducted for the public’s freedom of information and to learn the truth. The fact that journalistic activities are held under oppression with constant detentions and arrests gridlocks the society’s information channels. We remind that we have to lay claim to the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression as the society during the process of state of emergency. We announce to the public that we are in solidarity with daily Sözcü staff,” TGC stated.

In its front page story on Sept. 2,2016, Sözcü announced that the government was preparing to silence the newspaper. It claimed that prosecutors were making preparations to press charges against the daily over Gülen links.

Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world with one third of arrested journalists across the globe being held in Turkish jails. Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 240 journalists are now in jails as of May 18, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 22 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons.

An outstanding detention warrants remain for 104 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey. Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the coup attempt. (SCF with May 19, 2017

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