Journalists hold placards reading "journalists will be freed , they will write again" during a demonstration for the World Press Freedom Day on the Istiklal avenue, in Istanbul, on May 3, 2017. AFP photo
Police conducted an operation targeting an executive of critical daily Sözcü and a number of other staff members, the Istanbul Chief Public prosecutor stated on May 19, after detention warrants were issued for four of the newspaper’s staff members in the early hours of the morning.
Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor İrfan Fidan told the Doğan News Agency that the operation only targeted executives of the daily, including its license holder Burak Akbay, and some other staff.
“[The operation] is about the executives of daily Sözcü. He [Akbay] is already a fugitive and there is an arrest warrant for him. There are detentions and the investigation is ongoing,” Fidan said.
“Proceedings are only being conducted against its manager and some staff members,” he added.
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had issued detention warrants for Akbay, the online manager of Sözcü, Mediha Olgun, finance manager Yonca Kaleli, and İzmir reporter
Gökmen Ulu. The four were reportedly being investigated over alleged links to the movement of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, accused of masterminding the July 2016 failed coup attempt.
According to state-run Anadolu Agency, the journalists were accused of “being a member of terror organization and committing crime on behalf of the organization,” “assault against the president,” and “armed insurgency against the Turkish government.”
İsmail Yılmaz, the lawyer for daily Sözcü, confirmed that a search and confiscation warrant had been issued by the prosecutor.
According to Yılmaz, police seized Akbay’s tablet computer during a three-hour search and also conducted searches at Kaleli’s and Ulu’s residences.
However, the lawyer also stated that police later detained Olgun without a detention warrant against her, adding that it may be part of another investigation.
Police also detained Ulu at his residence late on May 19.
Celal Ülgen, another lawyer for daily Sözcü, said police did not take images from Akbay’s computer during inspection at his residence.
“I am at [Akbay’s] house for the search warrant which was issued for daily Sözcü. They [the police] did not take images from the computer despite my insistence,” Ülgen posted on his Twitter account.
“We have faced a decision which is extremely absurd, which has no aspect that can be discussed in legal terms and which is against logic,” Ülgen later told reporters after his visit to the daily.
Separately, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies slammed the detention warrants on the journalists.
CHP deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Barış Yarkadaş and Eren Erdem paid a visit to Sözcü’s headquarters in the Halkalı district of Istanbul following the warrants.
“The timing of the operation on Sözcü is meaningful. It is a date chosen specifically. The fact that the operation was conducted on May 19 [Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day] rather than any other date is a message to republicans, secularists and everyone who opposes this government,” Tanrıkulu told reporters after the visit.
Yarkadaş described Sözcü as “a breath of oxygen in a contaminated media environment,” adding that the government was seeking to close it down.
CHP Deputy Chair Aykut Erdoğdu and other deputies, meanwhile, visited the daily’s Ankara
“The prosecutor has created great indignation and resentment. This is a great injustice to the honest legal experts who really are trying to investigate the coup,” Erdoğdu said.
In a statement, the Turkish Press Council described the warrant as “the example of a new kind of oppression.”
“It is understood that we are facing with an example of a new kind of oppression against journalists. We cannot comprehend the fact that May 19 [Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day] has been chosen as the day to act in an investigation that has been ongoing for the past 10 months. Normally, prosecutors can summon journalists to testify on regular days and can address any kind of question to them,” the Press Council stated.
The Turkish Journalists’ Association also released a statement on the operation, declaring “solidarity” with Sözcü’s staff.
“Journalism is a profession conducted for the public’s freedom of information and to learn the truth. The fact that journalistic activities are held under oppression with constant detentions and arrests gridlocks the society’s information channels. We remind that we have to lay claim to the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression as the society during the process of state of emergency. We announce to the public that we are in solidarity with daily Sözcü staff,” it stated.