Dozens of journalists named as terrorists and spies in criminal probe in Turkey

Riot police break the main entrance of the İpek Media Group headquarters in İstanbul during the raid in 2015

Abdullah Bozkurt


Dozens of Turkey’s leading journalists and academics were the subject of criminal investigations on fabricated allegations of terrorism and accused of working on behalf of foreign governments, confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor have revealed.

The investigations were launched after a criminal complaint was filed by İsa Akalın, an obscure, 49-year-old Islamist academic who is a member of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In his complaint filed with the Manisa Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on July 18, 2016, Akalın named 66 people, nearly all journalists, as people who had committed the crime of incitement to war against the Turkish state.

The complaint cited Article 304 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which states that “any person who incites the authorities of a foreign state to wage war or conduct hostile movements against the State of the Republic of Turkey or who cooperates with the authorities of a foreign state to that end shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of ten to twenty years.”


The criminal complaint by İsa Akalın:




The journalists, academics and others who were accused of committing terrorist offenses were as follows:

Osman Özsoy, İhsan Yılmaz, Bülent Korucu, Tuncay Opçin, Faruk Arslan, Mahmut Akpınar, Gültekin Avcı, Ahmet Kurucan, Savaş Genç, Bülent Keneş, Önder Aytaç, Emrullah Uslu, Ali Ünal, Aydoğan Vatandaş, Celil Sağır, Gökhan Bacık, Hakan Şükür, Nedim Hazar, Adem Yavuz Arslan, Kerim Balcı, Büşra Hanım Erdal, Ekrem Dumanlı,, Mehmet Kamış, Ahmet Memiş, Faruk Mercan, Tarık Toros, Abdulhamit Bilici, Erhan Başyurt, Abdullah Abdülkadiroğlu, Metin Yıkar, Erkam Tufan Aytav, Kerim Gün, Fatih Akalan, Sevgi Akarçeşme, Nazlı llıcak, Levent Gültekin, Said Sefa, Fuat Baran, Oğuz  Karamuk, Atilla Taş, Arzu Yıldız, Levent Kenez, İlhan Tanır, Bekir Salim, Amberin Zaman, Mahir Zeynalov, Ünal Tanık, Tuncer Günay, Taha Ünal, Filiz Akgün, Yonca Kaya Şahin, Sedat Laçiner, Cafer Solgun, Cafer Tayyar Kala, Cemil Tokpınar, İrfan Sönmez, Turgay Oğur, Yılmaz Odabaşı, Omer Şahin, Yavuz Baydar, Mehmet Yılmaz, Cenk Sidar, Hasan Cücük, Can Bahadir Yüce, Kazım Güleçyüz and Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu.


Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, who was briefly jailed, is seen speaking in front of İstanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse in December 2014.


Akalın claimed that the journalists smeared the Erdoğan government with accusations that it supported terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and as a result incited foreign governments to adopt a hostile stance or wage war on Turkey. He also alleged that the journalists cooperated with foreign government authorities to realize these goals without providing any evidence to support the baseless accusations.


Police investigated dozens of journalists named in the criminal complaint: 



The complaint was filed only three days after a failed coup in Turkey in July 2016 and suggests that the journalists were profiled by government authorities long before. The list appears to have been handed over an AKP operative for him to file a complaint so that criminal investigations could be launched into the journalists. Some of the journalists have already been jailed for several years in Turkey, and others had to leave to escape a crackdown on freedom of the press and freedom of expression and live in exile. Very few are still free in Turkey and one – Gergerlioğlu – became a lawmaker from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

All the journalists named and others were alleged to have been affiliated with the Gülen movement, led by US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has been a vocal critic of the Erdoğan government. Gülen has been particularly outspoken against pervasive corruption in the Turkish government and Erdoğan’s aiding and abetting of armed radical and jihadist groups in Syria, Libya and other places.

In the aftermath of major corruption investigations that were exposed in December 2013 and that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his business and political associates, Erdoğan turned against the movement and accused Gülen of instigating the probes, a claim that was rejected by Gülen himself. Erdoğan removed the prosecutors, police chiefs and judges who were involved in uncovering the graft scandal, which extended to controversial Iranian and Saudi nationals, and declared the movement a terrorist entity with no credible evidence to support the very serious accusation.


The seven-page police investigation file on the journalists (ID numbers and addresses have been redacted by Nordic Monitor): 



The movement was also accused of orchestrating the 2016 failed military coup, for which the Erdoğan government again failed to present any credible evidence to back up its allegations. Gülen has repeatedly denied any involvement in the putschist attempt and called for an international investigation into the events. Many believe the abortive putsch was a false flag operation that was orchestrated by Erdoğan himself to consolidate his power and crack down on opposition groups.

The baseless complaint against the journalists was taken seriously by the prosecutor in Manisa province, who sent it to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Turkish prosecutor Adem Akıncı took over the complaint and decided to launch a secret probe into all the names mentioned in the complaint under investigation case file No. 2016/109228. He asked the police department to run investigations into the accused journalists on August 23, 2016.


İsa Akalın is seen in this April 2019 photo giving a lecture in an imam-hatip (religious public school) in Antalya province.

İbrahim Bozkurt, the counterterrorism police chief at the Ankara Police Department, sent a seven-page secret preliminary investigation file to the prosecutor’s office on June 15, 2017. The investigation listed the personal details of the journalists and their registered addresses in Turkey or abroad. Many of the journalists identified in the complaint were later the subjects of arrest warrants, and some were jailed and later convicted on trumped-up charges. Some journalists had to flee Turkey to remain free and cannot return for fear of wrongful imprisonment.

Turkey under the Erdoğan government has been a worldwide leader in the jailing of journalists in recent years. According to advocacy group the Stockholm Center for Freedom, which monitors press freedom in Turkey, 165 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkish prisons. The SCF data also show 167 journalists have been forced to live in exile.

Akalın had previously made an unsuccessful run for parliament on the AKP ticket in his birthplace of Diyarbakir.  He has been involved in controversial Islamist charity groups such as the Ensar and Hakyol foundations, which are backed by the Erdoğan government.

Akalin also filed a complaint against Gülen for the cleric’s remarks critical of the Erdoğan government for Turkey’s support of ISIS, during an interview in July 2016 with reporters from major media outlets including The New York Times, the Financial Times, Sky News, CNN, The Guardian and Reuters.

Turkish prosecutor Aytekin Canikli, then with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, turned this radical academic’s complaint into an indictment in February 2017 and claimed that Gülen had put Turkey at risk of war with his allegations and also by attempting to portray the Erdoğan government as a sponsor of terrorism. The transcript of the video recording of Gülen’s interview, uploaded to YouTube, was reviewed by a police cyber security unit, and a transcription of the interview was included in the indictment as criminal evidence.

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