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Turkish police break up press freedom rally

November 5, 2016

Police have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters in Istanbul demonstrating for press freedom. The rally came after authorities formally arrested nine staff of opposition paper "Cumhuriyet."

Türkei Istanbul Demonstration von Kurden von Polizei aufgelöst
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Bozoglu

Some 1,000 protesters in the center of Istanbul were confronted by tear gas and water cannon on Saturday as they tried to reach the offices of the "Cumhuriyet" newspaper, nine of whose journalists and executives have now been put under formal arrest after their detention on Monday.

The protest in the Istanbul district of Sisli came as Ankara continues its draconian crackdown following a July coup attempt that the Turkish government has blamed on US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The state authorities have been targeting not only alleged Gulen supporters, but also pro-Kurdish officials in their campaign, which the government says is aimed at stamping out terrorism. On Friday, nine members of parliament from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) were arrested on a variety of terrorism-related charges.

Prosecutors said staff at "Cumhuriyet," one of the few newspapers still critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were under suspicion both of crimes committed on behalf of Kurdish militants, and of support for Gulen.

Turkey's journalists' association says some 170 newspapers, magazines, TV stations and news agencies have been closed since July, with critics of the Turkish president describing the crackdown as an attempt to quash all legitimate opposition.

Türkei Kurden demonstrieren in Istambul
Protesters demonstrated against both the HDP and "Cumhuriyet" arrestsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna

International concern

The head of the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party, voiced his anger at the government's recent actions.

"The international community is outraged. What are you trying to do? Are you trying to create a Turkey where everyone is in jail?" Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

"What has the 'Cumhuriyet' newspaper done? Have they planted bombs somewhere?"

The crackdown has drawn a wave of criticism from outside Turkey as well.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas described Ankara's treatment of the media as "completely unacceptable" in comments made to the "Donaukurier" newspaper. He said Turkey was blatantly ignoring the core values of the European Union, despite its avowed desire to join the bloc.

The EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said she was "extremely worried" by the HDP arrests, while the United States has expressed "deep concern" at the limits on freedom of expression.

In addition to journalists, more than 110,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants have been detained or suspended in the post-coup crackdown.

Erdogan: the media crackdown taking Turkey a step closer to autocracy

tj/rc (dpa, Reuters)