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Opposition daily faces investigation for reporting on state-mafia relations in Turkey

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An investigation has been launched into two senior figures of the Cumhuriyet daily, which is critical of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, on accusations of “insult” and “libel” for reporting on several photos implying a relationship between Turkish politicians and the mafia, local media reported on Tuesday.

The investigation into Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Aykut Küçükkaya and Managing Editor Olcay Büyüktaş Akça was launched by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office after Gen. Arif Çetin, the current commander of the gendarmerie, filed a complaint against them over a report on his photos.

On May 11 Cumhuriyet released a photo of Çetin with organized crime boss Selahattin Yılmaz in a front-page report with the headline “Deep relations,” in reference to the country’s “deep state,” and the subheading “Commander together with gang leader!”

The deep state was alleged to be a group of anti-democratic coalitions within the Turkish political system, including high-level figures from the Turkish military, security agencies, judiciary and mafia.

Cumhuriyet also released in the same report Çetin’s photo with Tolga Ağar, a ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy who is the son of former interior minister and police chief Mehmet Ağar, days after the father and son made the headlines over claims by a mob boss that they were implicated in the suspicious death of Kyrgyz national Yeldana Kaharman on March 28, 2019.

A student at Turkey’s Fırat University who also worked as a travel show host for a local TV channel in the eastern province of Elazığ, Kaharman was found dead a day after visiting the house of Tolga Ağar, local media reports said at the time.

Sedat Peker, the head of one of Turkey’s most powerful mafia groups, alleged in early May that Kaharman was raped by Ağar and then filed a complaint with the gendarmerie against the MP, a day before she died. Peker said that Ağar took his son out of the city in a helicopter, while the gendarmerie chose not to act on Kaharman’s complaint, an allegation denied by both the lawmaker and the gendarmerie.

Following the release of the news report, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu targeted Cumhuriyet, saying, “[Today’s] Turkey isn’t the same as the old Turkey. You will be held to account before the law.”

Küçükkaya and Büyüktaş on Monday testified to a prosecutor as part of the probe launched into them, local media reports said.

“The headline of our new report, ‘Commander together with gang leader,’ is based on solid truth, with photos proving the matter. … Thus, it doesn’t constitute the crimes of ‘insult’ and ‘libel’,” Küçükkaya argued in his statement.

“It’s to the public’s benefit that we released these photos in the aftermath of the [scandalous] claims voiced [by Peker] in videos watched by millions of people. … We don’t accept the charges,” Büyüktaş underlined.

Once a staunch supporter of Erdoğan, Peker has since early May been setting the country’s political agenda through videos he posts on YouTube, each of which reaches over a million viewers on the first day of their release. The crime boss, who lives in Dubai and is the subject of an outstanding warrant in Turkey, has been making shocking revelations about state-mafia relations and drug trafficking and murders implicating state officials.

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