Turkey re­jects Euro­pean ‘red line’ on press free­dom af­ter de­ten­tions

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Turkey’s prime min­is­ter said he had no re­gard for Europe’s “red line” on press free­dom yes­ter­day and warned Ankara would not be brought to heel with threats, re­ject­ing crit­i­cism of the de­ten­tion of se­nior jour­nal­ists at an op­po­si­tion news­pa­per. Po­lice de­tained the edi­tor and top staff of Cumhuriyet, a pil­lar of the coun­try’s sec­u­lar­ist es­tab­lish­ment, on Mon­day, on ac­cu­sa­tions that the news­pa­per’s cov­er­age had helped pre­cip­i­tate a failed mil­i­tary coup in July.

The United States and Euro­pean Union both voiced con­cern about the move in Turkey, a NATO ally which as­pires to EU mem­ber­ship. Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Pres­i­dent Mar­tin Schulz wrote on Twit­ter that the de­ten­tions marked the cross­ing of ‘yet an­other red-line’ against free- dom of ex­pres­sion in the coun­try. “Brother, we don’t care about your red line. It’s the peo­ple who draw the red line. What im­por­tance does your line have,” Prime Min­is­ter Bi­nali Yildirim told mem­bers of his rul­ing AK Party in a speech in par­lia­ment.

“Turkey is not a coun­try to be brought in line with salvoes and threats. Turkey gets its power from the peo­ple and would be held ac­count­able by the peo­ple.” Prose­cu­tors ac­cuse staff at Cumhuriyet, one of few me­dia out­lets still crit­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan, of com­mit­ting crimes on be­half of Kur­dish mil­i­tants and the net­work of Fethul­lah Gulen, a USbased cleric blamed for or­ches­trat­ing the July coup at­tempt. Jour­nal­ists at the pa­per were sus­pected of seek­ing to pre­cip­i­tate the coup through “sub­lim­i­nal mes­sages” in their col­umns be­fore it hap­pened, the state-run Anadolu agency said.

Cumhuriyet vowed “we will not sur­ren­der” in a front-page head­line. Dozens of peo­ple staged a vigil in front of its Is­tan­bul of­fices overnight, some wrapped in blan­kets as they slept on benches while po­lice guarded bar­ri­ers out­side. “Even if Cumhuriyet’s ex­ec­u­tives and writ­ers are de­tained, our news­pa­per will con­tinue its fight for democ­racy and free­dom to the end,” it said in a de­fi­ant ed­i­to­rial which de­scribed the ar­rests as the start of an at­tempt to close the pa­per. It said its pages had re­peat­edly warned that Gulen’s move­ment rep­re­sented a dan­ger to the Repub­lic and wanted to abol­ish sec­u­lar­ism. The pa­per said it had in the past been tar­geted by prose­cu­tors and judges aligned with Gulen.

En­e­mies of the state

Turkey’s au­thor­i­ties have bris­tled at the Western re­ac­tion to the abortive coup, in which rogue sol­diers used fighter jets and tanks to at­tack par­lia­ment and other key build­ings, killing more than 240 peo­ple, many of them civil­ians. They see Euro­pean lead­ers as quick to con­demn widescale purges of sus­pected plot­ters, but re­luc­tant to ac­cept the grav­ity of the putsch and the threat to the state. “We have no prob­lem with press free­dom. This is what we can’t agree with our Euro­pean friends. They al­ways bring up press free­dom when we take steps in our fight against ter­ror­ism,” Yildirim said.

He said Turkey could draft a “lim­ited mea­sure” to bring back the death penalty if a po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mise could be reached on the is­sue, a move that could spell an end to its ef­forts to join the Euro­pean Union. Crowds have re­peat­edly called for the re-in­tro­duc­tion of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, which Turkey abol­ished in 2002 as part of the EU ac­ces­sion process, and Er­do­gan has said he would ap­prove it if par­lia­ment voted for it.

Turkey has clas­si­fied Gulen’s net­work of fol­low­ers as the “Gu­lenist Ter­ror Or­ga­ni­za­tion” (FETO), rank­ing it as an en­emy of the state along­side the Kur­dish PKK mil­i­tant group, which has waged a three-decade armed in­sur­gency, and Is­lamic State. Gulen, who has lived in self­im­posed ex­ile in the United States since 1999, de­nies in­volve­ment in the coup at­tempt. More than 110,000 of Gulen’s sus­pected fol­low­ers have been sacked or sus­pended and 37,000 jailed pend­ing trial since the coup at­tempt. Rights groups say the scale of the purges show Er­do­gan is us­ing the coup at­tempt to crush all dis­sent.

No ac­cess to lawyers

The lat­est de­tainee on Mon­day even­ing was vet­eran Turk­ish jour­nal­ist Kadri Gursel, who be­gan writ­ing for Cumhuriyet in May, bring­ing the num­ber of those held to 13, the pa­per said. Three more staff tar­geted by the in­ves­ti­ga­tion are abroad. It said the de­tainees, some of whose com­put­ers and phones were con­fis­cated, were not be­ing al­lowed to speak to lawyers for five days un­der emer­gency rule im­posed af­ter the putsch.

The staunchly sec­u­lar­ist pa­per was es­tab­lished in 1924 by a con­fi­dant of Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk just six months af­ter he es­tab­lished the Turk­ish Repub­lic. Po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence has dogged its his­tory. Seven of its writ­ers have been as­sas­si­nated since 1978 and some were among those jailed af­ter coups in 1971 and 1980. Cumhuriyet’s pre­vi­ous edi­tor, Can Dun­dar, was jailed last year, con­victed of 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.

Since the at­tempted coup, 170 news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, tele­vi­sion sta­tions and news agen­cies have been shut down, leav­ing 2,500 jour­nal­ists un­em­ployed, Turkey’s jour­nal­ists’ as­so­ci­a­tion said in a state­ment on Mon­day. “We are not go­ing to learn from you what press free­dom is. We sup­port it all the way,” Yildirim said of Euro­pean crit­i­cism.

“But we won’t see crim­i­nals, their ac­com­plices, and sup­port­ers of the sep­a­ratist (PKK) and FETO ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions as in­no­cent. Let the ju­di­ciary do its job. If there is noth­ing on them, then it will come out.” — Reuters

ANKARA: Par­tic­i­pants hold plac­ards read­ing ‘Free press can’t be si­lenced’ (cen­ter) and ‘Do not touch Cumhuriyet’ (right) out­side the head­quar­ters of Turk­ish news­pa­per Cumhuriyet in Ankara, dur­ing a protest against the de­ten­tion of the news­pa­per’s edi­tor-in-chief and a dozen jour­nal­ists and ex­ec­u­tives. — AFP

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