Turkey has ordered another 47 journalists detained, part of a large-scale crackdown on suspected supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of masterminding a failed military coup.
Interior Minister Efkan Ala said on Wednesday that more than 15,000 people, including about 10,000 soldiers, had been detained so far over the July 15-16 coup attempt, CNN Turk broadcaster reported. Of those, more than 8000 were formally arrested pending trial.
Tens of thousands of others suspected of having links to the Gulen movement, including police, judges and teachers, have been suspended or placed under investigation since the coup, which was staged by a faction within the military.
Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania but whose movement has a wide following in Turkey where it runs a large network of schools, has denied any involvement in the failed coup.
Western governments and human rights groups, while condemning the abortive coup in which at least 246 people were killed and more than 2000 injured, have expressed concern over the extent of the crackdown, suggesting President Tayyip Erdogan may be using it to stifle dissent and tighten his grip on power.
Erdogan, who narrowly escaped capture and possible death on the night of the coup, denies the crackdown has wider aims and says the Gulen movement threatened democracy by building a “parallel state”.
The detention of journalists ordered on Wednesday involved columnists and other staff of the now defunct Zaman newspaper, a government official said. Authorities in March shut down Zaman, widely seen as the Gulen movement’s flagship media organisation.
“The prosecutors aren’t interested in what individual columnists wrote or said,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
“At this point, the reasoning is that prominent employees of Zaman are likely to have intimate knowledge of the Gulen network and as such could benefit the investigation.”
However, the list includes journalists, such as Sahin Alpay, known for their leftist activism who do not share the religious world view of the Gulenist movement. This has fuelled the concerns that the investigation may be turning into a witch-hunt of the president’s political opponents.
On Monday, media reported that arrest warrants had been issued for 42 other journalists, 16 of whom have so far been taken into custody.
Alpay is a former official of Turkey’s left-leaning, secularist main opposition CHP party. The Dogan news agency said police raided his home in Istanbul early on Wednesday and detained him after a 2-1/2 hour search of the property.
Separately, Turkey’s capital markets board said it had revoked the licence of the head of research at brokerage AK Investment and called for him to face charges over a report he wrote to investors analysing the coup.
Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party and opposition parties, usually bitterly divided, have demonstrated a rare spirit of unity since the abortive coup and are seeking consensus on constitutional amendments partly aimed at “cleansing” the state apparatus of Gulenist supporters.
Also on Wednesday a government official said Turkish special forces were still hunting in hills around the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris for a group of 11 commandos thought to have tried to capture or kill Erdogan on the night of the coup, when he was on holiday in the area.
Around a third of Turkey’s serving generals have been arrested pending trial since the coup attempt.
Erdogan has signalled Turkey might restore the death penalty in the wake of the failed coup, citing strong public support for such a move, though the European Union has made clear this would scupper Ankara’s decades-old bid to join the bloc.