Turkish court jails nine staff of opposition daily

November 6, 2016 1:11 am
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Demonstrators hold copies of Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet outside the newspaper’s office in Ankara during a protest against the detention of journalists © AFP/File / Adem Altan

, Istanbul, Turkey, Nov 5 – An Istanbul court on Saturday remanded in custody nine staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, in an intensifying crackdown a day after the leaders of the country’s main pro-Kurdish party were also jailed.

The arrests added to growing international alarm over the use of a state of emergency implemented in the wake of the failed July 15 coup against critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Cumhuriyet executives and writers, including prominent names in Turkish journalism, will now be held in custody ahead of a trial, the date for which has not been set.

Nine MPs from the opposition pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), including its co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, were also detained pending a trial on terror charges expected to begin Friday.

Istanbul police used tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets to break up a protest by hundreds of people against the arrest of the deputies, AFP correspondents said.

There were also protests outside Turkey, with large pro-Kurd rallies in France and Germany on Saturday.

A total of 13 staff from the Cumhuriyet (Republic) newspaper were detained in raids on Monday in a swoop that amplified concerns about press freedoms in Turkey.

A copy of Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet during a protest in Ankara on October 31, 2016, against the detention of the newspaper’s editor-in-chief © AFP/File / Adem Altan

Among the nine to be held ahead of trial were Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, celebrated cartoonist Musa Kart and influential anti-Erdogan columnist Kadri Gursel.

However, columnists Hikmet Cetinkaya and Aydin Engin were released on bail on health grounds and because of their age. Two other suspects from the newspaper’s accounting department were released without charge.

The suspects are charged with links to the Kurdish militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the movement of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the failed coup bid. Gulen denies the accusations.

– ‘Worrisome trend’ –

Demirtas and Yuksekdag, meanwhile, spent a first night in custody after their arrest on Friday.

Although their initial hearings took place in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, both were flown to prisons in the west of Turkey — well away from their strongholds in the east.

After his arrest, Demirtas said in a written statement read by his lawyer that he was the victim of a “civilian coup by the government and the (presidential) palace”.

Protesters hold copies of the latest edition of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet during a demonstration outside the newspaper’s headquarters in Ankara on November 5, 2016, following the arrest of nine Cumhuriyet staff © AFP / Adem Altan

Dogan news agency showed dramatic footage of Demirtas arriving in Edirne province, close to the Greek and Bulgarian borders, aboard a helicopter before being taken to prison in a multi-vehicle convoy.

Their arrest, along with those of the seven other HDP MPs, on various charges of membership of the PKK and making “terror propaganda” for the group, sparked immediate alarm among Turkey’s Western allies.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was “extremely worried” over the detentions while US State Department spokesman John Kirby said there was a “worrisome trend” of limiting freedom of expression in Turkey.

– IS said to claim attack –

The jailing of the HDP MPs took place hours after a bomb attack in Diyarbakir Friday outside a police headquarters killed 11 people and wounded over 100, according to an updated toll.

The government immediately blamed the PKK for the attack.

But the Amaq news agency, which is linked to the Islamic State jihadist group, said that its fighters were behind the bombing, the SITE Intelligence Group said.

There has so far been no comment from the PKK. But the HDP suggested the bomb attack may have targeted its leaders, saying Demirtas and Yuksekdag were held at the police complex before being taken to court.

With tensions escalating, the Turkish authorities sparked further controversy by slapping restrictions on social media and messaging services including WhatsApp.

Users were still encountering problems loading social media on Saturday and also using Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections which Turks often use to circumvent such restrictions.

Kirby said that in a telephone call Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Turkish foreign ministry number two Umit Yalcin that “restricting the internet undermines confidence in Turkey’s democracy and economic prosperity”.

In Germany thousands of Kurds — 15,000 according to the protest’s organisers — marched in the western city of Cologne on Saturday in support of the jailed pro-Kurdish politicians.

Meanwhile more than 2,000 Kurds staged a demonstration in Paris, carrying placards with slogans such as “Turkey bombs, Europe stays silent”.

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