ISTANBUL – Detention warrants were issued Friday for four senior staff at an opposition newspaper, Turkey’s state-run news agency said, drawing criticism from the country’s pro-secular opposition.
The Anadolu news agency said the warrants against the nationalist Sozcu newspaper’s owner and three others were for committing crimes on behalf of the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen without being members.
The government blames Gulen for last summer’s failed coup attempt — an allegation he denies.
Sozcu is a staunch supporter of the secular legacy of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and a sharp critic of Turkey’s president and government.
Mediha Olgun, the editor of Sozcu’s website, was detained and owner Burak Akbay is abroad, according to Anadolu. The private Dogan news agency said warrants were also issued for the newspaper’s head of finance, Yonca Kaleli, and reporter Gokmen Ulu.
Anadolu said the prosecutors are also investigating the four for “armed rebellion against the Turkish government” and “assassinating and assaulting the president” in reference to an article by journalist Ulu on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s location hours before the coup attempt.
Sozcu’s lawyer told reporters warrants for search and seizure at their homes were issued but not for detentions. The chief prosecutor in Istanbul, however, confirmed the investigation.
Akbay said he was being “targeted for correct and honest journalism.”
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party said the “operation” against Sozcu was “unacceptable” and called on the judiciary to act. “Turkey cannot take this pressure on the media,” he said.
Lawyer Celal Ulgen called the decision “absurd, shocking” and insisted there could be no Gulen followers at Sozcu. He said the newspaper opposed the cleric.
Leading columnists at the paper protested the investigation. “This is what happens to the opposition in Turkey, this is what will happen to opposition newspapers but we won’t give up and we won’t be silent,” said Emin Colasan, a senior journalist.
Since the declaration of a state of emergency after the July 15 failed coup, some 140 media organizations have been closed by executive decrees.
More than 47,000 people have been arrested for alleged links to groups Turkey lists as terror organizations, including Gulen’s network. Among them are 165 journalists, according to Platform 24, an independent watchdog.