ISTANBUL — 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 U.S.-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.
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 government 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.”
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 U.S. State Department also weighed in. Department Spokesman John Kirby told reporters that while the U.S. 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.
Cumhuriyet columnist Kadri Gursel, who also heads the Turkish national committee of the media advocacy group International Press Institute, said on Twitter before his detention that his house was being searched.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the operation was directed toward the paper’s corporate leadership and stemmed from an investigation that started in August. Kurtulmus said the prosecutor’s office issued “search, confiscation and detention decisions” on Sunday based on the investigation’s findings.
He would not comment further on the detentions, saying “it is neither possible nor correct for us to say anything about this.”
Cumhuriyet columnist Ayse Yildirim said the detentions could be a prelude to a government takeover of the newspaper.
“We are not going to hand over Cumhuriyet; we are not going to allow them to assign a trustee. We will hold our heads high and continue our publication without fear,” Yildirim said outside the paper’s Istanbul headquarters.
As he left the building to surrender to police, cartoonist Kart said, “How will they explain this to the world? I am being taken into custody for drawing cartoons.” Kart has been prosecuted in the past for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Anadolu Agency said authorities also issued a warrant for the paper’s former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, who was sentenced to five years in prison in May for reports in Cumhuriyet on alleged arms smuggling to Syrian rebels. That verdict is being appealed. Dundar left Turkey after the coup attempt, saying he would not receive a fair trial.
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.