9 journalists arrested in Turkey

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President Erdogan
President Erdogan

Nine journalists, staff members and executives from Turkish opposition daily newspaper Cumhuriyet were formally arrested pending trial, on terrorism-related charges, in court Saturday, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Among those arraigned was Murat Sabuncu, the editor-in-chief, who was detained along with other staff members on Monday. The private Dogan news agency said cartoonist Musa Kart was also arrested.

The court ruling comes a day after nine members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were arrested on a variety of terrorism-related charges, drawing stark condemnation from the European Union.

Turkey has also been throttling internet access, including to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, while mobile internet access was also restricted at times. The United States has voiced concern about the limits on freedom of expression.

The arrests of the HDP members of parliament comes on top of Ankara removing the elected mayors of more than two dozen Kurdish municipalities – including in the city of Diyarbakir, seen as the main cultural capital of the Kurds – and replacing them with loyalists.

In the latest move, Ankara on Saturday appointed a trustee to run Sirnak municipality in the south-east, replacing the HDP-affiliated co-mayors, Anadolu reported.

More than 1,000 officials linked to the HDP have been formally arrested since last year, the party says. The party says it is being targeted because it opposes President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans to expand his power through constitutional changes.

In June 2015 the HDP became the first Kurdish party in Turkey to pass the 10-per-cent threshold and be elected to parliament. The following month, a ceasefire between the state and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) collapsed, sparking new violence.

The crackdown on the Kurdish politicians and the media follows a failed coup attempt in July this year by a faction within the military. Some 35,000 people were arrested and tens of thousands of civil servants fired.

The government says it is targeting those affiliated with Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher Ankara blamed for the coup attempt. Gulen was a longtime Erdogan ally until the two fell out.

Turkey has also shuttered some 165 media outlets. There are more than 100 journalists in jail. Some of the newspapers and television stations affected are seen as affiliated with Gulen, but many are Kurdish.

Cumhuriyet – which has continued to publish this week despite the detentions – also confirmed the arrests of its staff and leadership and ran a headline on its website saying the measures “will go down as a disgrace in history.”

European leaders and human rights groups have been critical of Turkey’s moves against the paper. Amnesty International called it “the only remaining mainstream opposition newspaper” and decried “an ongoing systematic attempt to silence all critical voices.”

The Cumhuriyet executives and journalists are accused of aiding the PKK and Gulenists, although not of being part of the networks, according to the prosecutor’s allegations.

Kurdish nationalists and the once-powerful Gulenists were at odds for years. Furthermore, the secular Cumhuriyet has a long history of being critical of both the PKK and the religious Gulenists, raising questions about the allegations.

European governments and the UN have been critical of Turkey’s vague anti-terrorism laws and their wide application. Turkey imposed a state-of-emergency after the coup, expanding the government’s powers, allowing it to rule by decree.

The centre-left newspaper, founded in 1924, has staunchly denied the charges against it. It is critical of the government.

The newspaper has been targeted by Erdogan repeatedly during the past year, especially since former editor-in-chief Can Dundar published an article revealing that the government was allegedly shipping weapons to Syrian rebels.

Dundar now lives in Germany in exile, after being sentenced along with another writer to five years in jail for their reporting.

He is aiming to set up a new media outlet which will employ the many journalists who have lost their jobs recently as a result of the crackdowns.(dpa/NAN)


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