ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police detained the chief editor and at least 12 senior staff of Turkey’s opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper on Monday, in a widening crackdown on dissenting voices.
Editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, cartoonist Musa Kart, the paper’s lawyer and several columnists were detained, some following raids at their homes, Cumhuriyet reported on its website. Police had warrants for the detentions of 16 staff members, the paper said.
The detentions at the left-leaning and pro-secular Cumhuriyet — one of Turkey’s oldest newspapers — come amid accusations by opposition parties and human rights groups that Turkey’s government is using the state of emergency imposed following a failed military coup in July to clamp down not only on the alleged coup plotters but on all government critics.
A statement from the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said those detained were suspected of “committing crimes” on behalf of the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — accused by the government of masterminding the coup attempt — as well as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
While they are not accused of membership in the Gulen movement or the PKK, there are “claims” and “proof” that shortly before the July 15 coup attempt, the suspects published content that attempted to legitimize the coup, the statement said. Gulen, who lives in the United States, has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
Authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people following the coup and more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs in a purge to eradicate Gulen’s network. Over the weekend, the government issued two new decrees that dismissed 10,000 additional civil servants and shut down 15 more mostly pro-Kurdish media outlets.
Sibel Gunes, general secretary of the Turkish Journalists’ Association, told The Associated Press that 170 media outlets have been shut down since the attempted coup and 105 journalists have been arrested. Authorities revoked the press accreditation of more than 700 journalists, Gunes said.
Opposition politicians rushed to Cumhuriyet’s headquarters in Istanbul and its office in the capital Ankara in a show of solidarity. Hundreds of demonstrators also gathered, chanting anti-government slogans.
“Instead of moves to strengthen democracy we are faced with a counter coup,” main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said after visiting the newspaper. “We are faced with a situation where the coup has been used as an opportunity to silence society’s intellectuals and mount pressure on media.”
The detentions sparked an international outcry, with European Parliament President Martin Schulz calling the detentions on Twitter “yet another red line crossed against freedom of expression in Turkey.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said: “We have emphasized, and will continue to do so, that press freedom is not just something of great value for us, but central to every democratic state of law.”
John Dalhuisen, Europe Director for rights group Amnesty International, condemned the detentions as a “systematic attempt to silence all critical voices” and described the media crackdown as a “blatant misuse of emergency powers,” calling on Turkish authorities to release journalists in pre-trial detention.
Those wanted for detention include columnist Kadri Gursel, who also heads the Turkish national committee of the media advocacy group International Press Institute, said on Twitter that his house was being searched.
Cumhuriyet columnist Ayse Yildirim said the detentions could be a prelude toward a government takeover of the newspaper.
“We are not going to hand over Cumhuriyet; we are not going to allow them to assign a trustee. We will hold our heads high and continue our publication without fear,” she said outside of the paper’s Istanbul headquarters.
As he left the building to surrender to police, Kart told reporters: “How will they explain this to the world? I am being taken into custody for drawing cartoons.” Kart has been prosecuted in the past for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Anadolu Agency said authorities also issued a warrant for the paper’s former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, who was sentenced to five years in prison in May for reports in Cumhuriyet on alleged arms smuggling to Syrian rebels. That verdict is being appealed. Dundar left Turkey after the coup attempt, saying he would not receive a fair trial.
Meanwhile, two prominent Kurdish politicians, Gultan Kisanak, the mayor of Turkey’s largest Kurdish-populated city, Diyarbakir, and co-mayor Firat Anli were formally arrested on Sunday, days after they were taken into custody for questioning on terrorism-related charges. They are accused of links to the PKK and have been transferred to a maximum-security prison in western Turkey, according to Anadolu Agency.
Access to the internet in the region has been periodically blocked since Wednesday — a move that rights activists say is aimed at restricting calls for demonstrations to denounce the mayors’ detentions.