Arrest warrants were issued earlier today for 35 Turkish journalists that Ankara accuses of belonging to the FETO movement, led by exiled cleric Fetah Gulen. So far nine of the 35 have been arrested and the police are currently looking for the others.
The warrants were issued late Wednesday night and were served in the early morning hours on Thursday. This group of 35 adds to the current 164 journalists currently languishing in Turkish prisons. This includes charges that were filed last month against 17 journalists from Cumhuriyet daily, one of the few remaining outlets that oppose Erdogan’s Justice & Development Party (AKP). While most of these journalists were released, but four remain behind bars.
The journalists in question apparently have committed the “crime” of using the encrypted messaging app Bylock, which Ankara claims is a tool used by the Gulenists to coordinate “terror activities.” Thousands of users of the app have already been detained since last July due to the allegations that it was used to launch and coordinate the coup against Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
While Gulen currently remains relatively safe in his palatial estate in the woods of Pennsylvania, anyone in Turkey who is accused of being connected to the FETO network continues to face repression. The problem with these alleged “connections” to Gulen is that the Turks never provide proof and are somehow always managing to find new “conspirators” anytime they speak out against Erdogan.
This is, of course, all technically legal since Turkey has been in an official “state of emergency” since the coup attempt. The state of emergency has allowed Erdogan to punish not only anyone who opposes the AKP but also journalists reporting on the current hostilities in the southern part of the country where Turkish forces are trying to put down a Kurdish insurgency.
Turkey is currently ranked 155th on the global press freedom index compiled by the France-based organization Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders or RSF). The RSF representative, Erol Onderoglu came out after the arrests and expressed RSF’s concern that the “automatic use as evidence of ByLock application to arrest journalists” has gotten out of hand, especially so long after the coup. Onderoglu cited as an example the egregious case Kadri Gursel who has been imprisoned for over nine months for “receiving calls from people who got ByLock on their mobile.”
Most of the journalists listed in this latest round of warrants formerly worked for newspapers and TV stations connected to Gulen but have remained free for this past year. If these journalists were complicit in some kind of pre-coup machinations it seems unlikely their arrest would have taken so long and it’s most likely that Onderoglu is right when he says “I believe that the state of emergency has brought all the arbitrary tools, all the disproportionate measures to silence, not only those accused of involvement in the coup attempt but all Turkish opposition circles in all its diversity.”
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