Turkey Cracks Down On Newspaper For Questioning Erdogan’s Whereabouts

At least 4 to 5 days, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slipped out of the public eye in prior to July 15 coup attempt. While he sporadically retreated to holiday resorts for rest before, he had never been absent that long from the scrutinizing gaze of media during his spell at power for 14 years either as prime minister or president.

Nobody had knowledge about his whereabouts and rumors about his health swirled in media in a way to question the chief cause of his long retreat. The Sozcu daily, an avowed supporter of Kemalism and secular Turkey, emerged as the only daily that dug for an answer, sought the help of readers to pinpoint the exact location of President Erdogan in Marmaris where he was believed to be staying.

It shared potential whereabouts of Mr. Erdogan and questioned his long disappearance from the political realm and public view.

On the day of the attempted coup, the newspaper even conducted an online survey, asking local residents in Marmaris to inform the public about the president’s location. Only hours before the coup, the story was on Sozcu, giving the name of the hotel where Mr. Erdogan was having rest.

And 10 months later, that story written by reporter Gokmen Ulu became the ground for prosecutorial action against the newspaper as prosecutors launched an investigation. Mediha Olgun, the editor of Sozcu’s website, and reporter Gokmen Ulu have been detained on charges of “armed rebellion against the Turkish government” and “assassinating and assaulting the president.” Detention warrant has also been issued for two others, owner Burak Akbay who is abroad, and Yonca Kaleli, the newspaper’s financial affairs chief.

The main cause for the investigation into daily, as in other media cases, was committing crimes on behalf of the Gulen movement, which the Turkish government has designated a terrorist organization.

The Turkish authorities ascribe blame on U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the abortive coup, a claim consistently denied by Mr. Gulen and his followers. Given that the Sozcu daily is known for its strong and outspoken anti-Gulenist position, it appears to be difficult to lend weight to Gulenist charges leveled against the newspaper.

“FETO” (Gulen Terrorist Organization) charge has become a catchall phrase to paint everything with the same brush in Turkey. Nothing more than the Gulenist charges that disturbed the members and writers of the Sozcu who long built a reputation for unyielding opposition to the Turkish cleric.

The Sozcu was, however, unable to escape unscathed from the government’s anti-Gulenist frenzy even though it lent unwavering backing to the purge of alleged Gulenists in civil service and the army.

Pro-government media journalists were quick to offer efforts to legitimize the legal action. Seeking Mr. Erdogan’s location, YeniAkit and Star judged, amounted to doing the bidding of coup plotters, helping them to find the president.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu portrayed the legal probe into the newspaper as “unacceptable.” “Turkey cannot take this pressure on media,” the CHP chairman said in disbelief.

“The only thing we do is journalism. But doing that in this country is a crime itself,” Metin Yilmaz, editor-in-chief of Sozcu, said in a statement appeared on the paper’s website.

“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,” Associated Press quoted Emin Colasan, a veteran columnist for the newspaper, as saying.

Corrosion of freedom of expression and unabashed assaults on media have become permanent fixtures of post-coup politics in Turkey. According to Istanbul-based independent P24 media platform, there are 165 journalists in jail in Turkey, the country which, according to Amnesty International, has one-third of all imprisoned journalists in the world.

The government is not only obsessed with media. In the 10-month sweep of the purge, the Turkish authorities either sacked or suspended more than 150,000 public workers on alleged links to Gulen movement. But what started as an anti-Gulenist cleansing has later morphed into a full-scale overhaul of the state apparatus by eliminating real and perceived political enemies.

Amid the political storm, nearly 50,000 people, including generals, judges, police, teachers and financial inspectors have been placed behind bars.

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