Turkish court jails nine staff of opposition daily Arrests add to growing international alarm
An Istanbul court yesterday ordered the imprisonment of nine staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, in an intensifying crackdown a day after the leaders of the country’s main pro-Kurdish party were also jailed. The arrests added to growing international alarm over the use of a state of emergency implemented in the wake of the failed July 15 coup against critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Cumhuriyet staff detained earlier this week, including some of the most prominent names in Turkish journalism, will now be held behind bars ahead of a trial, a date for which had yet to be set. Nine MPs from the opposition proKurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), including its co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, were also jailed ahead of trial by the courts Friday on terror charges. At total of 13 staff from Cumhuriyet (Republic) had been detained in raids on Monday in a swoop that amplified concerns about press freedoms in Turkey.
Among the nine ordered held ahead of trial were Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, celebrated cartoonist Musa Kart and influential anti-Erdogan columnist Kadri Gursel. However, columnists Hikmet Cetinkaya and Aydin Engin were released on judicial control due to age and on the grounds of health, the reports said, while two other suspects from the accounts department were released without charge. The suspects are charged with links to the Kurdish militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the movement of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the failed coup bid. Gulen denies the accusations.
Cumhuriyet has for months been in the crosshairs of the Turkish authorities. Earlier this year former editor-in-chief Can Dundar was given a five years and 10 months jail sentence for revealing state secrets in a front-page story. An arrest warrant has also been issued for Dundar in the current case but he has quit Turkey for Germany. “Our ‘crime’ is our writing, our headlines, our news. We will write again.
We will write even more,” Dundar wrote on Twitter, Demirtas and Yuksekdag, meanwhile, spent a first night behind bars after their arrest on Friday. Although their hearings took place in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, both were flown to prisons in the west of Turkey well away from their strongholds in the east. Demirtas is now in prison in Edirne province close to the Greek and Bulgarian borders while Yuksekdag was taken to Kocaeli just east of Istanbul, reports said.
After his arrest, Demirtas said in a written statement read by his lawyer that he was the victim of a “civilian coup by the government and the palace”. Dogan news agency showed dramatic footage of Demirtas arriving in Edirne province on a helicopter which landed in the middle of an athletics field before he was taken to prison in a multi-vehicle convoy.
Their arrest along with those of the seven other HDP MPs, on various charges of membership of the PKK and making “terror propaganda” for the group, sparked immediate alarm among Turkey’s Western allies. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was “extremely worried” over the detentions while US State Department spokesman John Kirby said there was a “worrisome trend” of limiting freedom of expression in Turkey. — AFP