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Over a dozen journalists leave Cumhuriyet daily after ultranationalist takeover

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Following an ultranationalist-Kemalist takeover of Turkey’s critical Cumhuriyet daily and the dismissal of Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, more than a dozen journalists including famous cartoonist Musa Kart have resigned.

Following the resignation of Kart along with columnists Özgür Mumcu, Tayfun Atay and Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, columnists Aydın Engin, Hakan Kara, Çiğdem Toker, Melis Alphan, Mirgün Cabas, Barbaros Şansal, Ahmet Tulgar and Bağış Erten and ombudsman Güray Öz announced on Sunday that they have left the daily, T24 reported.

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.

The new executive board on Friday fired Editor-in-Chief Sabuncu and removed his farewell article from the paper’s website on Saturday. The daily also did not publish the columns of Ahmet İnsel and Orhan Erinç as well.

Sabuncu was replaced by Aykut Küçükkaya, and Managing Editors Bülent Özdoğan and Faruk Eren were also sacked.

Zeynep Miraç Özkartal Taner, editor of the Saturday supplement, also resigned following the shakeup.

Cumhuriyet’s Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül, who was jailed for 92 days along with former Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar for publishing a story on Turkish intelligence trucks carrying hidden weapons bound for Syria in early 2014, is expected to soon be replaced.

“After raids, legal proceedings, arrests & imprisonment of its journalists, last independent newspaper #Cumhuriyet now taken over by ultra-nationalists, aligned with President #Erdogan. Is this final blow to what was left of press freedom in #Turkey?” Kati Piri, Turkey rapporteur for the European Parliament, tweeted on Saturday.

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.

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 detention 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.

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