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Journalists protest Turkey's Cumhuriyet raid

October 31, 2016

Journalists say Turkey's raid on the newspaper Cumhuriyet is the latest step in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's drive to crush critical voices. The government claims the raids are in response to the July 15 coup.

Türkei Cumhuriyet Chefredakteur festgenommen
Image: Getty Images/AFP/O. Kose

Press advocates are calling Monday's detention of journalists at the main secularist newspaper, Cumhuriyet, the latest step in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's drive to crush the few critical voices still left in Turkey following the July 15 coup attempt.

According to the Istanbul prosecutor's office, Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and some of the newspaper's senior staff were detained early Monday on suspicion of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and the network of the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey's government accuses the preacher of orchestrating the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

The investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, who has written extensively about the Gulen organization, said Monday's operation was not a surprise for him.

"My comment after the July 15 coup attempt was this: The coup is averted, but the junta is in power," Sik said. "They target everyone who is not with them. This is fascism building up. ... This is not going to be limited to Cumhuriyet newspaper or the Kurds. The split in Turkey is that you are with us or against us. What we are seeing is proof that everyone is in the crosshairs if they are not supporting the AKP."

Since the crackdown operation started after the July 15 coup attempt, more than 100,000 people have been sacked or suspended for alleged links to Gulen's network, and another 37,000 have been arrested. Turkey also jailed 105 journalists and closed about 170 media outlets since, according to the Turkish Journalists' Association.

Erol Onderoglu, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative for Turkey, said journalism was being purged .

"We are going through a period in Turkey that all kind of productions that are critical and questioning, aiming to reveal negativities, and journalism are being purged," Onderoglu said. "It seems like all media outlets, except the ones this government took in its hands in the past 10 years, are extensions and supporters of terror. Only theirs are clean. As RSF, we don't see the operations - which are clearly political purges - as legal, and we condemn them."

Screenshot YouTube Murat Sabuncu
Sabuncu has become the latest person arrested on charges activists call trumped-upImage: YouTube/MARKA Konferansı

'A total diversion'

The prosecutor's office has reported that Monday's detentions followed an investigation into allegations that Cumhuriyet had published material justifying the events of July 15.
Sik said there was much more behind the arrests.

"Instead of discussing the Gulen movement's transformation into a terror organization and the AK Party's role as a partner in crime in this, the people who are trying to express that are being detained, newspapers are being raided, politicians are being banned," Sik said. "This shows the whole picture. This is a total diversion."
Cumhuriyet's staff said they would not give up their commitment to their work.
"We will continue to do our job," said Nazan Ozcan, an editor. "Aydin Engin, Murat Sabuncu, Guray Oz - they are all journalists. It's their only job. The prosecutor insulted both his own intellect and ours when he wrote that reasoning. ... In this country, it is one of the few news outlets still trying to do journalism. There has been pressure on us, and we have been waiting for something to happen. But we trusted that nothing would happen to us, because we were doing journalism but nothing else. In a normal country, it should be like that. But all this happened because we are in a abnormal country."