Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed a complaint against Today’s Zaman editor-in-chief Dr. Bülent Keneş, Zaman deputy editor-in-chief Mehmet Kamış, Today’s Zaman columnist Emre Uslu, Journalist Önder Aytaç and Former İstanbul Police Department Intelligence Bureau Chief Ali Fuat Yılmazer on Saturday, a day before the local elections.
Erdoğan’s lawyers claimed in a petition they submitted to Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office that that Keneş and Kamış humiliated Erdoğan in the their tweets.
Erdoğan has previously filed a complaint against Today’s Zaman journalist Mahir Zeynalov for posting tweets that include “heavy insults and swear words in a bid to provoke the nation to hatred and animosity.”
Zeynalov said his tweets are mostly about news reports appeared in the media and that they include no insult against Erdoğan or content that would provoke society.
“The accusations directed against me in the petition are all groundless,” Zeynalov said. Weeks after, Zeynalov was deported from Turkey, causing outrage in the community and abroad.
Aytaç, a former official in Police Academy, was detained late Friday over allegations that he might had information about the bugging of the top secret meeting in which high-level officials were discussing options regarding Syria. Later in Saturday morning, Aytaç was later released from custody.
In the leaked audio, the voices of purportedly Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler are heard when discussing whether or not Turkey should conduct a military incursion into Syria ahead of Sunday’s local elections.
Today’s Zaman could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio nor could it determine when and how it was recorded. But news sources said the conversation was recorded at Davutoğlu’s office at the Foreign Ministry on March 13.
The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the journalist’s comments over the audio recording which has rocked Turkey’s political landscape, on a TV program has gave the impression that he might have had information about who was the responsible for the leak.
However, the way the journalist was detained led to questions over the motive behind the detention. Pro-government journalist Cem Küçük has claimed that the lists of “suspects”, including well-known journalists, were already ready and mass arrests would be carried out. Regarding government’s critics and opponents, he said everybody will reap what they sowed.
In the hours following the detention of Aytaç, unconfirmed reports said two more journalists and a former head of İstanbul Police Department Intelligence Unit have also been detained. Journalists Nazlı Ilıcak and Mehmet Baransu, both outspoken critics of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, were taken into custody after an overnight operation, unconfirmed reports said.
According to the claims, Yılmazer, who recently said in a series of TV interviews that Erdoğan personally ordered arrest of the former army chief as part of the investigation into the claims of a military plot to topple Erdoğan’s government, was also detained.
His stunning revelations about a number of key trials and investigations has led a reassessment of the government’s role in some critical political developments that entirely shaped the political structure of the country in the past few years.
While expectations about a government crackdown on dissent in run-up to local polls were high, the sudden operation came as a surprise to the many. The leak of the high-level Syria meeting has riveted Turkish people and officials, leaving them struggling to make sense of scale of the security woes at the top echelons of the state.
Erdoğan and his aides have blamed the Hizmet movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former ally whose followers have influence in the police and judiciary, of running a “dirty campaign” of espionage to implicate him in corruption ahead of crucial nationwide municipal elections on Sunday.
“Tomorrow we will teach those liars and slanderers a lesson,” Erdoğan told a jubilant crowd of supporters in Istanbul’s working class Kartal district on Saturday, vowing his ruling AK Party would triumph at the polls.
Gülen has vociferously denied orchestrating the leak scandal, but those close to his network have said they fear a heavy crackdown once the local elections have passed.
Aytaç said in a statement on the Hizmet-affiliated Samanyolu news website that he had been asked whether he was a spy and how he had known so much about the content of the leaked recording, after he discussed it on a television programme.
“I made my assessment as an academic in that programme. They are trying to intimidate people who think like me in this election process,” he said in the statement.
Government officials declined to comment on whether an investigation into the leak had begun, saying any probe would be a matter for the judiciary. The state prosecutor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Senior officials said in February that Turkey would launch a criminal investigation into an alleged “parallel state” backed by Gülen, which they accuse of orchestrating the graft scandal and illegally tapping thousands of phones over years.
Erdoğan’s government has already reassigned thousands of police officers and hundreds of prosecutors in a purge after the corruption investigation burst into the open on Dec. 17 with the detention of businessmen and three ministers’ sons.