ANKARA, Turkey – Police conducted raids in a dozen Turkish cities Sunday, detaining at least 24 people – including journalists, TV producers and police – known to be close to a movement led by a U.S.-based moderate Islamic cleric who is a strong critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It was the latest crackdown on cleric Fethullah Gulen’s movement, which the government has accused of orchestrating a plot to try to bring it down. The government says the group’s followers were behind corruption allegations last year that forced four Cabinet ministers to resign.
Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, denies the accusations.
During a speech on Saturday, Erdogan vowed to “bring down the network of treachery and make it pay.”
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European enlargement negotiations, said the raids “are incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy.” They suggested the issue could reflect on Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman issued a written statement of concern. “As Turkey’s friend and ally, we urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions do not violate these core values and Turkey’s own democratic foundations,” she said.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said a court issued a warrant to arrest 32 people connected to the movement, and that 24 of them were detained in raids in Istanbul and other cities across Turkey on Sunday. They included Ekrem Dumanli, the chief editor of Zaman newspaper, who was taken into custody at his paper’s Istanbul headquarters, which was broadcast live on television.
Those with arrest warrants included Hidayet Karaca, the chief executive of Samanyolu television, as well as producers of two of its TV shows. Both Zaman and Samanyolu are affiliated with the movement.
Anadolu said those detained are suspected of “using intimidation and threats” to try to wrest control of state power. The state-run news agency said some of the police officers detained are suspected of fabricating crimes and evidence while investigating an organization close to the al-Qaida terror network back in 2010.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside Zaman’s headquarters to protest the detention of Dumanli and other suspects, shouting: “Free press cannot be silenced.”
Turkey’s journalism associations also denounced the raids targeting journalists, while Human Rights Watch said the detentions look “like another attempt to crack down on critical media.”
Several police officers believed to be close Gulen’s movement were arrested earlier this year for alleged illegal wiretaps and other charges. The government has said it wants Gulen extradited to Turkey from the United States. Many see his moderate movement as an alternative to the more radical interpretations of Islam.
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