Istanbul, Turkey, Oct 31 – Turkish police on Monday detained the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Cumhuriyet — a thorn in the side of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — as Ankara widens a crackdown on opposition media.
The Cumhuriyet, which had published revelations embarrassing for the government, said at least a dozen journalists and executives were detained in early morning raids.
The detentions came after authorities fired more than 10,000 civil servants at the weekend and closed 15 pro-Kurdish and other media outlets, the latest purge since July’s failed military coup aimed at ousting Erdogan.
Cumhuriyet’s editor Murat Sabuncu was detained and police were hunting for executive board chairman Akin Atalay, the official news agency Anadolu said.
The Istanbul prosecutor said an investigation had been launched into allegations the secular daily’s output was “legitimising” the attempted putsch.
The newspaper said it would “fight until the end for democracy and freedom” in a statement on its website headlined: “We will not surrender”.
“Cumhuriyet is a newspaper and being a journalist is not a crime,” it added. “Believing in its journalism, it continues and will continue its publication.”
Cumhuriyet said an arrest warrant was also issued for former editor-in-chief Can Dundar, who was sentenced to jail in May for allegedly revealing state secrets in a high-profile case that triggered alarm about the state of press freedom in Turkey.
The newspaper had accused the government of seeking to illicitly deliver arms bound for Islamist rebels in Syria. Erdogan had warned Dundar he would “pay a heavy price”.
Dundar is now believed to be in Germany after he was freed earlier this year pending appeal.
He described Monday’s actions as the “storming of the last fortress” on Twitter as Turkish media said his house in Istanbul was also raided.
The International Press Institute said an arrest warrant was issued for one of the rights group’s board members, Kadri Gursel, who also wrote for Cumhuriyet.
– ‘Media cannot be silenced’ –
.In a move heavily criticised by Western leaders and rights groups, tens of thousands of civil servants, soldiers, police, judges and teachers have been suspended, fired or detained since the attempted coup, blamed on exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The Istanbul prosecutor said in a statement quoted by media that Cumhuriyet and its owner the Cumhuriyet Foundation were being investigated over whether they committed crimes on behalf of Gulen’s movement or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
But the prosecutor said those investigated were not accused of being members of either group.
Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside Cumhuriyet’s Istanbul offices to protest the detentions, waving copies of Monday’s paper which bore the headline: “Again, a coup against opposition”.
“A free media cannot be silenced,” they chanted.
Monday’s edition of the paper criticised the government’s weekend announcement of the closure of several media outlets as well as the suspension of university rector elections.
Erdogan is set to pick the winners from a pool of candidates selected by the nation’s education authority.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus insisted the investigation was not targeting journalists but probing the Foundation.
– ‘Ridiculous’ –
Council of Europe chief Thorbjorn Jagland criticised the raids, saying it was “highly questionable if the raid against Cumhuriyet can be justified as a proportionate measure, even under the state of emergency”.
Reacting to the raids, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert and the French foreign ministry urged the protection of press freedom.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz said the “ongoing massive purge” seemed to be “motivated by political considerations, rather than legal and security rationale”.
Cumhuriyet cartoonist Musa Kart meanwhile described his detention as “ridiculous”.
“Until today, I have drawn hundreds and thousands of caricatures of the (Gulen movement) and PKK… What is happening is ridiculous. You will not scare anyone with this repression.”
While Turkey insists it is acting within the rule of law, organisations defending free speech have accused the government of violating human rights.