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Merkel says Turkish actions against press freedom ‘alarming’

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The actions of Turkish authorities against freedom of opinion and the press are “highly alarming,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday, expressing doubts about the legitimacy of Turkey’s detention of senior staff at an opposition newspaper.

On Monday, at least 13 staff members at the Cumhuriyet daily were detained, among them the chief editor, columnists and a cartoonist.

“It is highly alarming that … freedom of the press and opinion is again and again being restricted,” Merkel said in Berlin. “The latest example of this already very sad development is what happened with the editors and editor-in-chief at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and we have very great doubts that this corresponds with the principles of a state of law.”

Merkel said Germany will pay close attention to the investigation of the journalists. She noted that Germany’s ambassador to Turkey visited Cumhuriyet’s offices on Tuesday “to underline again how important the issue of freedom of opinion and press freedom is to us.”

“Of course, such an issue also plays a central role in questions regarding membership talks with the European Union,” she added.

In another statement on Wednesday, Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Merkel, said Germany is not discussing possible sanctions against Turkey over its widening crackdown after the failed coup and the detention of the Cumhuriyet journalists.

“We have big doubts whether the actions against [Cumhuriyet] editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and his colleagues are in line with the principles of the rule of law,” Seibert said during a regular government news conference.

Turkey has been engaged for a decade in slow-moving talks on ultimately becoming a member of the 28-nation European Union.

Turkey’s prime minister has shrugged off European criticism, arguing that the issue of media freedom is being used by the EU to try to limit Turkey’s steps in combating terrorism.

A failed military coup attempt on July 15 claimed the lives of more than 240 people and injured a thousand others. Dozens of media outlets in the country, including the country’s best-selling daily Zaman, 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 canceled during the July-September period.

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