NEW: "These raids and arrests are politically motivated," group says
Journalists, media executives are arrested in Turkey
Those arrested are associated with the Gulen religious movement
The Gulen supporters do not support the government
Turkish police on Sunday arrested senior journalists, media executives and even the scriptwriter for a popular television series on charges of “forming, leading and being a member of an armed terrorist organization.”
The more than two dozen arrests followed another series of police raids on December 17 of last year, in which prominent supporters of the government, including the sons of ministers and the head of a state-owned bank, were interrogated on charges of corruption.
In almost all cases, those year-old charges have been dropped.
The current crop of detentions are people associated with the influential Gulen religious movement and whose followers have an active network of schools and businesses. The government accuses the movement of infiltrating the police and judiciary.
Among those now detained are Ekrem Dumanli, editor-in-chief of Zaman, the country’s widest circulating newspaper.
Police arriving at 7.30 a.m. were greeted by scores of protesters shouting “a free media cannot be silenced.”
Journalists and Gulen supporters had mounted a vigil after tweets from “Fuatavni” – a reliable but anonymous source – had warned of the raid. Police retreated only to reappear in the afternoon when Dumanli gave himself up voluntarily.
Also in custody are Hidayet Karaca, the head of the Gulen-affiliated Samanyolu television, as well as the director, producers and writer of long-running political soap operas that cast aspersions on the government’s attempt to broker a deal with Kurdish militants by depicting it as a conspiracy hatched in the corridors of Tehran.
For the past year, the government has been waging a campaign against the Islamic spiritual leader Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. In the pro-government press, even the word Pennsylvania has become synonymous with a conspiracy to create what is called a “parallel” state by overthrowing the elected government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, former Prime Minister and now President.
The Gulen-affiliated movement counters that these accusations are simply a smokescreen to cover up corruption in high places, including the president’s own family. For the past 12 months, suspected Gulenists in the bureaucracy have been let go from key positions and laws enacted that will shut down a chain of university tutorial colleges affiliated to the movement.
“Whether driven by a desire to shift public attention from the anniversary of corruption probes, or by public criticisms of systematic nepotism and excesses of the presidential palace, these raids and arrests are politically motivated,” the Alliance for Shared Values, an organization that represents U.S. groups affiliated with the Gulen movement, said in a statement. “Such actions taint Turkey’s image around the world and raise the growing authoritarianism of the Erdogan regime to a new level.”
Until recently, the Gulen movement had been among Erdogan’s most enthusiastic supporters. The Zaman media group was a cheerleader of a series of trials that involved scores of military officers convicted of trying to stage a coup d’état. Journalists critical of the Gulenists’ political ambitions also stood trial, including the freelance writer Ahmet Sik, who spent 2011-2012 in prison awaiting trial.
Sik has refused to have his revenge eaten cold. While the Gulen community may have “served fascism a few years ago, what happened to them is also fascism,” he tweeted at the news of Sunday’s raid.
Indeed many observers see the crackdown as a growing example of Erdogan’s increasing authoritarian rule.
“These arrests appear to be government retribution against journalists reporting on corruption and criticizing the government. The crackdown on speech in Turkey must end, said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of Freedom House, the Washington-based democracy watchdog that this year downgraded the Turkish press from being “partly free” to “not free.”
“The situation changes when people … try to take control of the bureaucracy and thus declare war against the country’s elected government,” said Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan’s successor as Prime Minister.
A statement by the U.S. State Department last week cautioned Turkey, a key NATO ally, not to violate its “own democratic foundations” while drawing attention to raids against media outlets “openly critical of the current Turkish government.”
CNN’s Yasmin Amer contributed to this report.