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Turkey Orders Arrest of Political Opponents


FILE - Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, Sept. 26, 2013.
FILE - Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, Sept. 26, 2013.

A Turkish court has ordered the arrest of a television station chief and three police officials on terrorism charges, but has ordered the release of eight others, including a newspaper editor, connected to a U.S.-based Muslim cleric accused of plotting to overthrow Turkey's government.

Turkish media also reported Friday that Instanbul's prosecutor had asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who heads the Muslim group known as Hizmet (Service) and once strongly supported President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Samanyolu TV chief Hidayet Karaca and the three police officials were placed under arrest Friday after being detained with some two dozen others over the weekend in raids targeting individuals who allegedly had plotted against Erdogan. However, the court ordered the release of Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Zaman, who was also arrested in Sunday's raids.

Gulen has been in open conflict with Erdogan since last December, when Erdogan was still Turkey's prime minister and a corruption investigation was launched targeting members of his inner circle.

Erdogan blamed the probe on followers of Gulen who had allegedly infiltrated Turkey's institutions of power, but the cleric has denied any involvement.

The United States has not responded to repeated requests from Turkey for the extradition of Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999.

Police are continuing to investigate Zaman and Samanyolu, both of which are linked to Gulen’s Hizmet movement. Staff members of those media outlets are being charged with terrorism offenses, which opens the door for the companies to be confiscated, said Bulent Kenes, editor in chief of Today's Zaman, the English-language version of the newspaper.

"It's a big possibility, probability, right now that Mr. Erdogan makes a plan to confiscate the Zaman daily, maybe [presents] the Hizmet movement and the journalists of the Hizmet movement as part of a terror organization," Kenes said. "And with new law he could confiscate [the] Zaman group and Samanyolu group and any media groups close to [the] Hizmet movement."

Under a law that took effect just days before police launched probes of Zaman and Samanyolu, assets and companies belonging to people under investigation for terrorism can be seized even if those individuals have not been convicted of a crime, as long as there is a "reasonable suspicion" of guilt. Analysts said the law was probably introduced to target the Gulen movement's sizable business interests.

Atilla Yesilada, Istanbul-based analyst for Global Source Partners, said that what happens to the media companies under investigation could have far-reaching consequences for the Turkish economy.

"[There are] more than 75,000 members of the pro-Gulen business association Tuskon, so this is not a small matter," Yesilada said.

But the economic fallout of confiscations might not be confined to Turkey. Analysts said emerging markets like Turkey are experiencing considerable financial volatility, which has prompted increasing scrutiny of the Turkish political situation.

Inan Demir, chief economist at Finansbank in Istanbul, warned that in such an environment, international sentiment may not react kindly to such actions by Turkish authorities.

"When the overall sentiment is strong, people have the tendency to look at these things as isolated incidents, rather than more general threats to economic policymaking," Demir said. "But clearly if the investor community is more discerning, even because of reasons that come from outside of Turkey, at those times I would say such moves never help."

The increasingly bitter dispute between Gulen and Erdogan has been blamed in part for the sharp drops in the value of the Turkish currency earlier this week, although much of those losses were subsequently recovered. With expectations growing in Turkey that the crackdown is set to expand, analysts are warning that there could be further political and economic instability.

In a possible sign of dissent inside the government over the crackdown, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc voiced concern Friday over the probes and detentions. Arinc has a reputation of being the voice of the pious grass roots of his party.

But consultant Yesilada said that even if pro-Gulen companies aren’t confiscated, they are facing growing pressure.

"A lot of these companies operate under fear," Yesilada said. Koza Altin, a mining company linked to Gulen, "claims one of their mines has been safety-inspected a total of 147 times within a year. So in country where many coal mines don't get inspected in a decade, 147 times is pretty onerous."

In another example, authorities have suspended trading in shares of Bank Asya — one of Turkey’s largest Islamic banks and widely seen as being close to Gulen — three times, and the bank has faced repeated investigations.

Observers warn such pressure is likely to continue for anyone linked to the Islamic cleric.

VOA's Dorian Jones contributed to this report from Istanbul.

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