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Attack on democracy

October 31, 2016

Turkey's government continues to exploit its post-coup state of emergency to silence critics. The 92-year-old newspaper Cumhuriyet is the latest target in the crackdown on opposition media, DW's Seda Serdar writes.

Türkei Protest gegen Absetzung des Chefs der Zeitung Cumhuriyet
Image: DW/K. Akyol

On October 29, Turkey celebrated the 93rd anniversary of the Republic. Only two days later, the 92-year-old newspaper Cumhuriyet (The Republic) became the latest target in a crackdown on opposition media. The government is continuing to use the state of emergency following the July 15 coup attempt as a pretext for further silencing Turkey's few remaining critical voices.

Not only are Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and Cumhuriyet's prominent writers in custody, but there is also an arrest warrant for the newspaper's previous editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, who currently resides in Germany.

What is even more absurd is the claim that they are being held under. Journalists who have been critical of the Gulen Movement, which is the No. 1 target of the Turkish government, are now being accused of working with it. The official line appears to be that anyone who is critical of the current political decisions is either a terrorist or has in some way helped the Kurdistan Workers' Party or the Gulen Movement.

Such a plot has long been written, and government officials will not rest until all those they deem to be against them - especially journalists who are seeking the truth - are put behind bars.

Coming bilateral tension?

Many academics and journalists have fled to Germany during the crackdown that has followed the failed coup. But it's not only the intelligentsia: Diplomats who are wanted by Turkey's government for alleged affiliation with the Gulen movement are seeking refuge in Germany. It doesn't seem likely that the country would hand these people over to Turkey as there are serious accusations of torture. German officials are struggling with how to deal with this without jeopardizing the country's relations with Turkey.

It would not be surprising if Turkey were to decide to ask for the extradition of wanted journalists living in Germany. In such a scenario, finding common ground could become harder, which could lead to another wave of conflict between the two countries.

German politicians have reacted disappointingly slowly to the recent detentions. Clearly, the government is more concerned about the EU's shaky refugee deal with Ankara than about the state of democracy in Turkey.

The arrests, changes in legislation, discussion of restoring the death penalty and insistence on a presidential system in a nonfunctioning democracy all show that Turkey is rapidly advancing to the point of no return. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders might have to take a stronger stance for democracy sooner than they think.  

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