Erdogan accused a Taraf reporter of being a "traitor" this weekend after the newspaper published an article last month on government documents that outline a secret strategy to eliminate one of the country's powerful religious movements. According to the November article, the government planned to "wipe out a network" led by the influential and exiled Islamic preacher, Fethullah Gulen.
At the time of the publication, the government forwarded a criminal complaint against the left-leaning Taraf newspaper for leaking state documents, and over the weekend, Erdogan called on the judiciary to "do its duty" against Taraf. According to the PM, "Revealing state secrets cannot be considered freedom of expression, it is quite simply treason," adding that Taraf reporter Mehmet Baransu is a "traitor".
In return, the paper has responded with its own counter-lawsuit.
Taraf's lawyer Veysal Ak told AFP Monday that "We are going to lodge a complaint in the next few days over these defamatory statements and for seeking to influence the judiciary."
The leaked documents and the ensuing legal brawl between Erdogan and Tarif highlight the fractions between the MP and Gulen. Erdogan, for example, tried to close private schools affiliated with Gulen's Hizmet (service) movement just last month, and nationwide protests in June further renewed tensions around the MP's position as Turkey's crackdown on demonstrators was met with heightened international criticism.
With only months left before national elections next year and renewed EU membership talks on the table, the PM-Taraf lawsuit is sure to stoke tensions further not only between the two groups, but also in terms of Erdogan as a fair leader. Increasingly, the MP has been described as divisive and authoritarian and trying to "impose conservative Islamic values on society."
Gulen has been living in the United States since his exile in 1999. He fled Turkey in order to avoid charges of "plotting against the secular state of Turkey."
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