The owner of daily newspaper Sözcü, Burak Akbay, its website manager Mediha Olgun, and its İzmir correspondent Gökmen Ulu are all accused of “aiding a terror organization while not being a member of it.” Olgun and Ulu have been behind bars since May 26 over alleged support of what prosecutors call the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), while Akbay is currently abroad.
Several accusations have been directed at the suspects in order to link Sözcü to FETÖ. One of them is the claim that by citing the name of the hotel where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was staying in Marmaris on its website on the night of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, they were reporting the address to coup plotters.
In a democracy, writing the venue where the president is staying is a routine situation that falls within the framework of press freedom. In the past, there was almost a competition between journalists to find out where a president or a prime minister was staying for their holiday.
In fact, other evidence shows that there was no need for “help” from Sözcü regarding the whereabouts of President Erdoğan on the night of the coup attempt: After all, four of five presidential aides are currently defendants in FETÖ cases.
In the indictment prepared for the Presidential Guard Regiment, the team in the helicopters that took off from İzmir’s Çiğli to seize Erdoğan on the night of July 15, 2016 was informed of the hotel’s address by the president’s chief aide, Staff Colonel Ali Yazıcı.
Meanwhile, a number of pro-government papers have printed a photo of owner Burak Akbay with the Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. However, it has been proven that this picture is a modified photo of Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of daily Zaman, standing alongside Gülen. It is nothing more than a photomontage of Akbay in place of Dumanlı. What’s more, several rumors that Akbay attended a college in Switzerland linked to the Gülen movement have also been proven false, as Akbay graduated from a private school in Switzerland.
Another aspect I find very strange is the claim that Hamdullah Öztürk, the cousin of Sözcü columnist Saygı Öztürk, was FETÖ’s top representative in Brazil. Of course, his cousin’s activities cannot make Saygı Öztürk a criminal, but as someone who has worked with Öztürk for many years in Hürriyet’s Ankara bureau I can say categorically that it is not possible even to imply FETÖ membership to him. In fact, many of his books are about conspiracies carried out by the Gülen movement. One of these books described the group’s organizational activities within the police force and was published in 2010, back when the Gülen movement was still highly appreciated by the government.
What’s more, I spoke to Saygı the other day. He told me that does not have an uncle and thus does not even have a cousin. He has received official documentation from the civil registry office that he does not have an uncle. So where do these claims come from?
Indeed, there is little need to recall Sözcü’s strong opposition against the Gülen movement, demonstrated over many years. The larger point we should note is this: Accusing a news outlet that strongly opposes FETÖ of being a FETÖ supporter is casting a dark shadow over the credibility of the struggle in this area, weakening the legitimacy of this fight.
As in the example of Öztürk, including nonsense allegations in investigation files only leads to doubts both in the Turkish public and in the international arena about the state of the justice system in Turkey.
At a time when conspiracy theories about the July 15 coup attempt being orchestrated by the Justice and Development (AK Party) government remain potent – at least in part due to the systematic campaign conducted by Gülenists in the West - such moves damaging the credibility of investigations give strong cards to the hands of the circles in question.
Many of the July 15 coup attempt legal cases recently started, and are based on credible and strong evidence. However, problematic files such as the Sözcü investigation are distracting attention from these cases. It is not difficult to imagine the smiles on the faces of FETÖ members watching this happen.