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Cumhuriyet removes farewell article by former editor-in-chief, signaling editorial change

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Turkey’s Cumhuriyet daily, critical of the government and shaken by changes in its executive board, has removed a farewell article by former editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu from its website, raising concerns about the future editorial policy of the publication.

Many Turkish news websites on Saturday posted the article written by Sabuncu, who has been editor-in-chief of the newspaper since Can Dündar resigned after leaving Turkey for self-exile in Germany.

In his article, titled “Long live Cumhuriyet [Republic] against darkness,” Sabuncu said: “It is time to go. History will write the reason. No one will hear a word from me against Cumhuriyet.”

The executive board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, which controls the daily, was changed at a meeting on Friday following a five-year legal battle stemming from a board election in 2013.

Sabuncu was dismissed from his position by the new board on Friday.

Yalçın Doğan, a former Cumhuriyet columnist, in an article on the T24 news website, described the changes at Cumhuriyet as “a conquest” by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), “with the collaboration of some factions inside.”

Doğan underlined that Alev Coşkun, who was elected as head of the executive board, members İnan Kıraç, Şükran Soner and İbrahim Yıldız, and Aykut Küçükkaya, who has been appointed the new editor-in-chief of the daily, testified in court in 2017 against jailed Cumhuriyet daily journalists including Sabuncu, who spent 17 months in pre-trial detention.

Cartoonist Musa Kart and columnists Özgür Mumcu, Tayfun Atay, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş and Bağış Erten resigned following the changes at the newspaper.

Turan Karakaş, a candidate for deputy in the recent general election from the ultranationalist Homeland Party (VP), was also elected to the executive board of the foundation.

“Cumhuriyet is lost, and we don’t know what will replace it,” wrote Doğan.

Cumhuriyet has been the target of a number of legal cases in recent years.

A Turkish court on April 26, 2018 sentenced 14 staff members of Cumhuriyet to prison on terrorism charges and acquitted three.

Veteran journalist Ahmet Şık, Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Sabuncu and columnist Aydın Engin were given seven years, six months, while Cumhuriyet CEO Akın Atalay was sentenced to seven years, three months and 15 days. Publisher Orhan Erinç and columnist Hikmet Çetinkaya got six years, three months, and editorial consultant Kadri Gürsel two years, six months. Three other Cumhuriyet employees — Önder Çelik, Hakan Kara and Mustafa Kemal Güngör — received three years, nine months in prison.

During Sabuncu’s incarceration no one replaced him as editor-in-chief, and he later continued running Cumhuriyet after his release.

The case is one of several high-profile trials seen as emblematic of a broader crackdown since Erdoğan announced a state of emergency following a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The court also ruled that the case against prominent journalist Dündar, previously the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, would continue separately.

All the convicted defendants, except Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, were released pending appeal. Cumhuriyet CEO Atalay, who was kept in pretrial detention for 542 days, was also released under the same conditions.

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