ISTANBUL - Police in Turkey raided media outlets throughout the country Sunday, arresting 24 supporters of a rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Those arrested are supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. They include Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of Zaman, the country's top-selling newspaper.
Dumanli said the Turkish media is face-to-face with a monster that has gone haywire, and is focused on annihilating democracy. He accused the government of carrying out a coup against the media.
The European Union condemned the raids, saying they were "incompatible with the freedom of media" and "against the European values and standards Turkey aspires to be a part of."
The U.S. State Department also voiced concern, urging Ankara to make sure the operation does not violate its "core values" of media freedom and judicial independence, along with "Turkey's own democratic foundations."
Erdogan last week reiterated accusations that supporters of Gulen run what he called a “a parallel state” in Turkey and are plotting a coup against him and his government. Erdogan vowed Saturday to "bring down the network of treachery and make it pay."
Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Hadi Salihoglu said in a statement Sunday that arrest warrants had been issued for 31 people on charges of "establishing a terrorist group," forgery and slander.
'Free press cannot be silenced'
As police raided Zaman newspaper in Istanbul, hundreds of people chanted “the free press cannot be silenced” and “Turkey is proud of you.” Many had spent the night outside the building as word spread of an impending police raid.
In scenes broadcast live on Turkish television channels, Ekrem Dumanli, the paper's chief executive, studied police documents before being led through his office to applause from his staff. A number of other senior members of Turkey’s top selling newspaper were also detained.
As police struggled to escort him through street protesters to a waiting car, Dumanli declared, "Let those who have committed a crime be scared. We are not scared."
Speaking just before being arrested, Dumanli condemned the police raid and those behind it, saying those who oppress the media and prevent freedom of expression will be remembered as tyrants.
Similar raids were carried out against television network Samanyolu and its senior officials and staff were detained.
'Disgrace for Turkey'
Hidayet Karaca, chairman Samanyolu, said the crackdown was a disgrace for Turkey.
"This is a disgrace for Turkey and this is not a convenient picture for Turkey. In 21st-century Turkey, a media group that has dozens of TV channels, radios, websites and magazines is being exposed to such a treatment,” Karaca said. “We are an international media outlet. We are broadcasting in foreign countries as well, and these scenes will be marked as a disgrace in history.''
A former head of Istanbul’s anti-terrorism unit was also detained during police raids across the country.
Those detained are accused of forming an illegal organization and trying to seize control of the state.
Analysts said Gulen’s Hizmet movement is the largest religious organization in Turkey.
Erdogan has blamed Gulen followers for last year's corruption probes that implicated his family members and senior government ministers. He also claimed the coup conspiracy extends to nationwide anti-government protests in 2012 known as the Gezi movement.
Gulen, who was once a close ally of the president, strongly denied the accusations and said the crackdown is part of a wider trend of increasing authoritarian tendencies of Erdogan.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.