Government says crackdown does not target columnists, but foundation

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Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus. / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

Following the detention of Cumhuriyet columnists early on Monday, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government spokesperson Numan Kurtulmuş stated that the investigation does not target columnists but rather the Cumhuriyet Foundation as an institution.

However, the Cumhuriyet daily rebutted his statement, saying it is not accurate since Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and columnist Kadri Gürsel have nothing to the with the newspaper’s foundation.

Kurtulmuş also said the investigation into the Cumhuriyet daily started on Aug. 18 and ended in the detention decisions of Oct. 30.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued detention warrants for 18 journalists from the daily over charges of aiding the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and “FETÖ.”

FETÖ is a derogatory term and acronym for the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, coined by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and AKP government to refer to the Gülen movement, which Erdoğan and the AKP accuse of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15.

The prosecutor’s office said the detentions followed an investigation into allegations that the newspaper had published material justifying the events of July 15.

Cumhuriyet said on its website that 12 of its staff members had been detained and some had their laptops seized from their homes. Footage showed one writer, Aydın Engin, 75, being ushered by plainclothes police into a hospital for a medical check.

Asked by reporters to comment on his detention, Engin said: “I work for Cumhuriyet. Isn’t that enough?”

Cumhuriyet’s former Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar is among the journalists for whom warrants were issued on Monday. Dündar is currently out of the country. His İstanbul house was being searched by police.

Dündar was sentenced to six years in prison for publishing state secrets involving Ankara’s Syria operations. His conviction sparked protest from rights groups and Western governments worried about worsening human rights in Turkey under President Erdoğan.

Police operations targeting Cumhuriyet editors, columnists and executives come after Turkey on Saturday dismissed a further 10,000 civil servants and closed 15 more media outlets over suspected links with militant groups and Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the Gülen movement. More than 100,000 people had already been sacked or suspended and nearly 75,000 detained and 37,000 arrested since the failed coup attempt in an unprecedented crackdown that Erdoğan says is crucial for wiping out Gülen’s network from the state apparatus.

Opposition groups say the purges are being used to silence all dissent against Erdoğan and the governing AKP party in Turkey, a NATO member that aspires to membership in the European Union.

The abortive coup on July 15 claimed the lives of more than 240 people and injured a thousand others. Dozens of media outlets in the country have been closed down and scores of journalists have been jailed by the government since the putsch.

According to a recent report from the Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD), 118 media outlets in Turkey were closed down, 184 journalists were detained, 56 journalists arrested, 866 journalists fired from their jobs and 620 journalists had their press cards cancelled during the July-September period.

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