Journalist Nedim Sener, one of the International Press Institute (IPI)'s World Press Freedom Heroes, has been ordered arrested by an Istanbul court as part of a controversial probe into an alleged plot to overthrow the government, IPI has learned from its Turkish National Committee.
Sener and journalist Ahmet Sik, who were detained along with other journalists following police raids on their homes and businesses Thursday, were questioned for hours by the lead prosecutor investigating the alleged Ergenekon plot before being sent to court early Sunday morning, where a judge granted a request for their arrest.
Prosecutors had demanded that the journalists face charges of "being a member of the Ergenekon organization" and "inciting hatred and animosity among the public".
The court also ordered the arrest of five other journalists this morning in connection with the plot: Dogan Yurkardul, Coskun Musluk, Sait Cakir, Yalcin Kücük and Müyesser Yildiz.
IPI's Turkish National Committee said prosecutors asked Sener and Sik wide-ranging questions about books they have written, their personal documents and phone calls the two had made. The prosecutor also asked Sener questions about statements he made during television programs in which he has participated.
The pair was taken to the Metris Prison in Istanbul, and Sener has since been transferred to the Silivri prison, where Sik is also expected to be taken. Journalists outside the Besiktas courthouse in central Istanbul staged an all-night protest against the detention starting Saturday when Sener and Sik were brought there for interrogation.
Protestors later blocked a road outside the courthouse with a sit-down strike upon learning of the arrests. That protest followed larger demonstrations on Friday in Ankara and Istanbul by thousands of protestors opposing the government's detention of Sener, Sik and the other journalists detained in Thursday's raids.
The Freedom for Journalists Platform, an umbrella group representing local and national media organizations in Turkey, including IPI's Turkish National Committee, organized the demonstrations. The group rejected Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's calls for the media "to act responsibly" in their response to the recent raids, responding that Erdogan's ruling party bore responsibility for creating a climate of pressure and fear in the country.
The group also said the arrests bring the number of journalists being held in connection with the Ergenekon plot to more than 60.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül said over the weekend in an interview with the newspaper Milliyet:
"I expect prosecutors and courts to be more diligent in pursuing their responsibilities and act in a way not to hurt the honor and rights of the people as well as institutions."
Turkish authorities have accused hundreds of politicians, retired military officers, academics and journalists of participating in the alleged plot, which came to light in 2007. The government says plotters called for assassinations and attacks that would create chaos and lead to calls for the military to take power from the current government.
Sener is an author and investigative reporter for daily Milliyet. IPI named him a World Press Freedom Hero last year for his work following the release of his book linking security forces to the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
IPI Board Member Ferai Tinc, who is also chairperson of IPI's Turkey National Committee, said:
"The prosecutors say that Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik have not been arrested because of their journalistic works. But both Sener and Sik have been questioned about the books they have written, about the people they have contacted and about their phone calls that have illegally been taped".
"These questions are directly related with the work of a journalist.Therefore IPI's Turkey National Committee considers this a direct violation of press freedom and part of a trend of intimidation targeting journalists, especially those who have critical views."
This press release is supported by the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate.