Turkey detains opposition newspaper editor, columnists
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Turkey detains opposition newspaper editor, columnists

US and EU denounce latest media crackdown

A security guard stands outside Cumhuriyet's Istanbul headquarters after police detained chief editor Murat Sabuncu and two columnists the opposition newspaper, October 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A security guard stands outside Cumhuriyet's Istanbul headquarters after police detained chief editor Murat Sabuncu and two columnists the opposition newspaper, October 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police detained the chief editor and at least 11 senior staff of Turkey’s opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper on Monday, a move that signals a widening crackdown on dissenting voices.

Editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, cartoonist Musa Kart, the newspaper’s lawyer and several columnists were detained, some following raids at their homes, Cumhuriyet reported on its website. Police had warrants for the detentions of 16 staff members, according to the left-learning and pro-secular paper.

The detentions involving Cumhuriyet — one of Turkey’s oldest newspapers— come amid accusations by opposition parties and human rights groups that Turkey’s government is using the state of emergency imposed following a failed military coup to clamp down not only on alleged coup plotters, but on all government critics.

A statement from the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said those detained were suspected of “committing crimes” on behalf of the movement led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — accused by the government of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt — and for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

People gather outside the headquarters of Cumhuriyet newspaper in Istanbul to condemn the detentions of its journalists, October 31, 2016. (AP Photo)
People gather outside the headquarters of Cumhuriyet newspaper in Istanbul to condemn the detentions of its journalists, October 31, 2016. (AP Photo)

While they are not accused of membership in the Gulen movement or the PKK, there are “claims” and “proof” that shortly before the attempted coup, the suspects published content that attempted to legitimize the government takeover, the statement said. Gulen, who lives in the United States, has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

Since the failed coup, authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people and more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs in a purge to eradicate Gulen’s network.

The Turkish government also issued two new decrees over the weekend that dismissed 10,000 additional civil servants and shut down 15 more mostly pro-Kurdish media outlets.

Sibel Gunes, general secretary of the Turkish Journalists’ Association, told The Associated Press that 170 media outlets have been shut down since July and 105 journalists have been arrested. Authorities revoked the press accreditation of more than 700 journalists, Gunes said.

Opposition politicians rushed to Cumhuriyet’s headquarters in Istanbul and its office in the capital Ankara in a show of solidarity. Hundreds of demonstrators also gathered, chanting anti-government slogans.

“Instead of moves to strengthen democracy, we are faced with a counter-coup,” main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said after visiting the newspaper. “We are faced with a situation where the coup has been used as an opportunity to silence society’s intellectuals and mount pressure on media.”

A man holds the latest copy of the Cumhuriyet newspaper outside its Istanbul headquarters after police detained chief editor Murat Sabuncu and two columnists of the opposition newspaper, October 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A man holds the latest copy of the Cumhuriyet newspaper outside its Istanbul headquarters after police detained chief editor Murat Sabuncu and two columnists of the opposition newspaper, October 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

The detentions sparked an international outcry, with European Parliament President Martin Schulz calling the detentions on Twitter “yet another red line crossed against freedom of expression in Turkey.”

The US State Department also weighed in. Department Spokesman John Kirby told reporters that while the US supports Turkey’s goal of “bringing to justice” the people behind the coup attempt, official pressure on news outlets that are critical of the government and the detention of journalists are deeply concerning.

“As Turkey’s ally and friend, we encourage the government of Turkey to ensure that the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are protected,” Kirby said. “Suppressing speech and opinion and the press does not support the fight against terror and only encroaches on the fundamental freedoms that help ensure democracies remain strong,”

Amnesty International Europe Director John Dalhuisen condemned the detentions as a “systematic attempt to silence all critical voices” and described the media crackdown as a “blatant misuse of emergency powers.” He called on Turkish authorities to release journalists in pre-trial detention.

Meanwhile, two prominent Kurdish politicians, Gultan Kisanak, the mayor of Turkey’s largest Kurdish-populated city, Diyarbakir, and co-mayor Firat Anli were formally arrested on Sunday, days after they were taken into custody for questioning on terrorism-related charges.

They are accused of links to the PKK and have been transferred to a maximum-security prison in western Turkey, according to Anadolu Agency.

Access to the internet in the region has been periodically blocked since Wednesday — a move that rights activists say is aimed at restricting calls for demonstrations to denounce the mayors’ detentions.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

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