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Erdogan sues four journalists, ex-police chief

One of the newspaper’s columnists, Onder Aytac, was detained late Friday over allegations knowing about the bugging of a secret meeting

Published: Updated:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has filed a legal complaint against four staff members of Turkey’s Today’s Zaman newspaper and the former Istanbul police department intelligence bureau chief, a day before local elections begin.

Zaman’s editor-in-chief, Bulent Kenes, and its deputy editor-in-chief, Mehmet Kamis, “humiliated” the Turkish premier in messages on microblogging site Twitter, Erdogan’s lawyers said in a statement filed to the Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office, the newspaper reported.

Emrullah İşler, of Erdogan’s ruling party, confirmed the lawsuits against the journalists. He said there were “accusations of humiliation” against them.

One of the newspaper’s columnists, Onder Aytac, was detained late Friday over allegations of having knowledge surrounding the circumstances of the bugging of a secret meeting in which high-level officials were discussing possible military intervention in Syria.

Early on Saturday, Aytac was subsequently released from custody.

No tolerance

Turkish President Abdullah Gül slammed the leak as an “act of espionage” and vowed that those who carried out the wiretapping would be found and shown “no tolerance.”

The journalist was “close to the Gulen Movement,” the Istanbul-based Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Erdogan and his aides have blamed the “Hizmet” movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally whose followers have influence in the police and judiciary, of running a “dirty campaign” of espionage to implicate him in corruption ahead of crucial nationwide municipal elections on Sunday.

“Tomorrow we will teach those liars and slanderers a lesson,” Erdogan told a jubilant crowd of supporters in Istanbul’s working class Kartal district on Saturday, vowing his ruling AK Party would triumph at the polls, Reuters reported.

Aytac said in a statement on the Hizmet-affiliated Samanyolu news website that he had been asked whether he was a spy and how he had known so much about the content of the leaked recording, after he discussed it on a television program.

“I made my assessment as an academic in that program. They are trying to intimidate people who think like me in this election process,” he said in the statement.

Government officials declined to comment on whether an investigation into the leak had begun, saying any probe would be a matter for the judiciary, according to Reuters.

Erodgan previously filed a complaint against Today’s Zaman journalist and Al Arabiya News columnist Mahir Zeynalov for posting messages Twitter that include “heavy insults and swear words in a bid to provoke the nation to hatred and animosity.”

Subsequently, Zeynalov was deported.