Turkish independent press outlets investigated for years-old reports on Twitter phenomenon

Two independent Turkish news outlets, T24 and Diken, are under investigation for publishing reports based on tweets by an anonymous Twitter account that the government says was controlled by an outlawed organisation.

The two news sites are accused of aiding a terrorist organisation for publishing news based on the tweets by the Fuat Avni account, which the Turkish authorities say was set up by the Gülen religious movement blamed for the July 2016 coup attempt.

The Fuat Avni account was closely followed in Turkey after it began tweeting in April 2014, a time during which the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was struggling with corruption allegations backed up by extensive leaks of sound recordings and documents.

Several of the insider claims made on the account proved to be true. These included a tip off that schools owned by members of the Gülen movement would be the subject of a police operation in 2015, that journalist Can Dündar would be arrested the same year, and that prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would be replaced by Binali Yıldırım in 2016.

The subjects of Fuat Avni’s tweets appeared to suggest the account was controlled by an individual or group with close connections to the highest echelons of the AKP government.

This led to speculation that the account was connected to the Gülen movement, which is widely believed in Turkey to have infiltrated state and government bodies in an organised fashion.

The corruption investigations on AKP politicians are said to have been led by Gülen-linked prosecutors and judges.

Staff at T24 and Diken have been called by police to give testimony on their organisations’ reports based on the Fuat Avni account.

Police are also seeking answers on who was responsible for ordering the T24 social media account to share tweets by the various accounts bearing the Fuat Avni name, Independent Turkish reported.

The probe is being run as part of a larger series of investigations related to the Gülen group, which the Turkish government designated as a terrorist organisation in 2016.

However, critics say this is being used as a pretext to apply pressure on Turkey’s already squeezed independent media outlets.

“This investigation is one of the classic type used to put pressure on the press. For news reports that were not submitted to the courts at the time they were published to come under investigation is a situation that’s endemic to Turkey”, Independent Turkish quoted legal consultant Yaman Akdeniz as saying.

“None of these news reports were written at anyone’s command or due to links to any organisation. Every kind of press outlet made news using Fuat Avni’s tweets”, he said.