Dozens in Turkey detained over alleged wiretapping

Officer on patrol. Istanbul, 2013. [Michael Swan/Flickr]

Dozens of high-ranking police officers were detained in Turkey today (22 July) accused of involvement in spying and illegal wire-tapping during an investigation into corruption in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s inner circle, CNN Turk said.

At least 76 officers were detained in 22 provinces around the country on suspicion of forming a criminal organisation and illegally bugging phones, the news channel said, weeks ahead of a presidential election in which Erdo?an is standing.

Other local media said most of those detained had held key positions during the corruption investigation, which emerged in December and led to the departure of four cabinet ministers and the detention of prominent businessmen close to Erdo?an.

Police in Istanbul declined to comment.

Erdo?an cast the corruption investigation as a plot to oust him orchestrated by a “parallel state” loyal to U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, a powerful preacher with influence in the police and judiciary.

He accuses Gülen’s Hizmet (“Service”) network of concocting the scandal by illegally wiretapping thousands of government phones and leaking manipulated recordings on social media.

His aides had made clear the fight against Hizmet would continue in the run-up to Turkey’s first direct presidential election on 10 August, in which Erdo?an is the front-runner.

Thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors have already been reassigned and senior officials in state institutions dismissed since the investigation, in what is seen as a government drive to purge Gülen’s influence. Gülen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies plotting against the government.

The EU opened accession talks with Turkey in October 2005, but a number of stumbling blocks are holding up Ankara's progress, in particular concerning Turkey's relations with Cyprus, human and minority rights and freedom of expression.

Prime Minister ?Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has faced vigourous opposition due to his crackdown of media freedom and freedom of speech over his past years of leadership. Last summer, protesters occupied the Taksim Gezi Park for several weeks, in what developed into a movement demanding respect for democratic and secular values in the country.

Erdo?an, 60, offers himself as champion of a conservative religious population treated for generations as second class citizens. A new breed of Islamic entrepreneur has arisen, and the headscarf, symbol of female Islamic piety, is being seen for the first time in state institutions. Islamist rhetoric that 15 years ago won Erdo?an a jail term is now commonplace.

The enemy identified now in countless Erdo?an speeches as "they" is a secularist establishment that dominated Turkey until he came to power. But many secular Turks in the broader population may increasingly feel the finger pointing at them.

Erdo?an has announced his candidacy to become the first directly elected President in the August presidential election.

>> Read: Erdo?an stands for Presidency, invokes Allah

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