Last Updated: Thu Mar 03, 2011 19:25 pm (KSA) 16:25 pm (GMT)

Turkish police detain more journalists in coup probe

Anti-AKP demonstrators in 2007
Anti-AKP demonstrators in 2007

Turkish police detained an award-winning journalist Thursday in a fresh move against the media as part of a controversial coup probe, fuelling accusations of a campaign to bully government opponents.

Armed with detention orders, police raided the homes of 11 people, most of them journalists, following a similar operation last month that sparked an outcry over press freedom in EU-aspirant Turkey and drew U.S. criticism, Anatolia news agency reported.

The suspects included Nedim Sener, an investigative reporter for the Milliyet daily and author, who last year received the International Press Institute's "World Press Freedom Hero" award for a book that put blame on the security forces in the 2007 murder of ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

It was the latest episode in a sprawling probe into Ergenekon, a purported secularist network that allegedly planned assassinations and bombings to spark chaos and prompt a military coup to topple the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Television footage showed police leading Sener into a car, as neighbors applauded the journalist in a protest at the operation.

Prosecutors argue Ergenekon is an "armed terrorist organization" with a media wing to sway public opinion.

Critics charge the probe, which has already landed dozens in court since it began in 2007, has degenerated into a campaign to bully AKP opponents.

"The intention is to silence opposition journalists and dissenting voices under the pretext of (uncovering) coup attempts," Akif Hamzacebi, a senior lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party, said.

Sener was a vocal critic of the Ergenekon probe, like three journalists from popular opposition website odatv.com, who were put in jail in February pending trial on charges of links to Ergenekon.

Following his colleagues' arrest, he wrote: "I am being told it is now my turn... How horrible! Has prison become the place for those who tell the truth and raise their voice?"

Washington at the time expressed "broad concern about trends involving intimidation of journalists in Turkey."

Three other newsmen, two of them writers of odatv.com, and a popular academic were detained as of Thursday afternoon after police completed a search at their homes in Istanbul and Ankara, Anatolia said.

"You touch them, you get burnt," journalist Ahmet Sik, who was working on a book critical of the police, shouted as officers led him out of his home, the agency reported.

The Ergenekon probe, which has resulted in the discovery of several weapons caches, was initially hailed as a success in a country where the army has unseated four governments since 1960.

But its credibility waned as police began arresting intellectuals known as AKP opponents, and some suspects accused police of fabricating evidence.

Meanwhile, the OSCE's media watchdog slammed the arrest in Turkey Thursday of several journalists as part of a controversial coup probe, and called for their immediate release.

"I call on the Turkish authorities to stop intimidating and threatening journalists," Dunja Mijatovic, media representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement.

"The detained journalists should be immediately released without any conditions," she urged.

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