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'Cumhuriyet:' We will not surrender

November 1, 2016

A Turkish opposition newspaper has vowed not to remain silent after several executive staff members were detained in police raids. The crackdown has been sharply criticized by Western politicians.

Türkei Titelseite Cumhuriyet Ausgabe 01.11.2016
Image: Cumhuriyet

The phrase "We will not surrender" was emblazoned in black on 'Cumhuriyet's' masthead on Tuesday, one day after its editor-in-chief and at least 10 other staff members were detained in a series of police raids.

Cumhuriyet called the detentions a "coup" against press freedom. Authorities took the paper's editor-in-chief, Murat Sabuncu, into custody on Monday as well as prominent columnist Guray Oz and a cartoonist.

According to the Istanbul prosecutor's office, members of the paper 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. Turkey's government has accused Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup attempt on July 15. Gulen has denied the accusations.

The paper's editors denied the charges against its staff and said the detentions were "unacceptable and unlawful." The newspaper made a further statement by publishing full templates of the detained writers' columns in its Tuesday edition, albeit with blank spaces where their words would normally be.

"Cumhuriyet," founded in 1924, is the country's main secular newspaper and is often highly critical of Turkey's ruling conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday that the country did not have a problem with freedom of the press and had only taken steps to fight terrorism.

Censure from Germany and US

The US State Department issued a rebuke of the Turkish government's crackdown on the media, calling "Cumhuriyet" "one of Turkey's most respected newspapers."

"The United States is deeply concerned by what appears to be an increase in official pressure on opposition media outlets in Turkey," US State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Monday. "Democracies become stronger by allowing diverse expressions of views, particularly in difficult times."

He also added that Washington remains a friend of Turkey and supports its fight against terrorism.

The co-chair of Germany's Green Party, Cem Özdemir, not only criticized the arrests, but also the German government's response.

"The [German] government says they are concerned about press freedom. But I ask myself - what press freedom?," Özdemir said on Tuesday during an interview with the ZDF breakfast show "Morgenmagazin."

"In Turkey there is no freedom of the press," he said, saying German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government missed their chance to address the "human rights" situation in Turkey.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz called the "Cumhuriyet" detentions "yet another red line crossed against freedom of expression in Turkey" on Twitter.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said the charges against "Cumhuriyet" staff are "ludicrous," adding on Twitter that "Erdogan wants to silence all independent media."

Media shut down

The detentions come as opposition parties and human rights groups allege that Turkey is using a state of emergency to clamp down on all dissenting voices.

In the light of the arrests, a number of observers noted that the US-based World Justice Project organization had downgraded Turkey to 99th place in its most recent Rule of Law Index.  The slide of eight positions in the past year placed it below countries including Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Iran.

Since July, more than 100 media outlets have been shut down and dozens of journalists detained as part of a massive crackdown on opposition elements.

Turkey has arrested some 35,000 people since the attempted coup and has fired tens of thousands of civil servants.


Crackdown on Turkish media

rs/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)