Opposition newspaper staff detained after failed Turkish coup

  • 01/11/2016
Supporters of Cumhuriyet newspaper, an opposition secularist daily, protest in front of its headquarters in Istanbul (Reuters)
Supporters of Cumhuriyet newspaper, an opposition secularist daily, protest in front of its headquarters in Istanbul (Reuters)

Turkish police have detained the editor and senior staff of a leading opposition newspaper over its alleged support for a failed coup in July, in a move described by a top EU politician as the crossing of a red line against freedom of expression.

Updating earlier information on its website, Cumhuriyet newspaper said 11 staff including the editor were being held by authorities, and arrest warrants had been issued for five more.

Turkey's crackdown since rogue soldiers tried to seize power on July 15 has alarmed Western allies and rights groups, who fear President Tayyip Erdogan is using the coup attempt to crush dissent.

More than 110,000 people have been sacked or suspended and 37,000 arrested over the past three and a half months.

The latest detentions came a day after 10,000 more civil servants were dismissed and 15 more media outlets shut down.

The Istanbul prosecutor's office said the staff at the paper, one of few media outlets still critical of Erdogan, were suspected of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and the network of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric. Turkey accuses Gulen of orchestrating the coup attempt, in which he denies any involvement.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz wrote on Twitter that the detentions marked the crossing of 'yet another red-line' against freedom of expression in Turkey.

The government has said its measures are justified by the threat posed to the state by the coup attempt, in which more than 240 people were killed.

Before turning himself in, veteran cartoonist Musa Kart told reporters outside Cumhuriyet's offices that such means of pressure were not going to succeed in frightening people.

"This is a comical situation," he said. "It is not possible for people with a conscience to accept this. You can't explain this to the world. I am being detained solely for drawing caricatures."

Cumhuriyet's previous editor, Can Dundar, was jailed last year for publishing state secrets involving Turkey's support for Syrian rebels. The case sparked censure from rights groups and Western governments worried about worsening human rights in Turkey under Erdogan.

Cumhuriyet said Dundar, who was freed in February and is now abroad, was one of those facing arrest.

Opposition groups say the purges are being used to silence all dissent in Turkey, a NATO member which aspires to membership of the European Union.

Since the attempted coup, 170 newspapers, magazines, television stations and news agencies have been shut down, leaving 2500 journalists unemployed, Turkey's journalists' association said in a statement protesting the detentions.