The Turkish police on Monday morning raided the houses of and detained senior staff at Turkey’s oldest and one of its most respected daily newspapers. As Reuters reports:
The Istanbul prosecutor’s office said the staff from the Cumhuriyet daily, one of few media outlets still critical of Erdogan, were suspected of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and the network of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric. Turkey accuses Gulen of orchestrating the coup attempt, in which he denies any involvement.
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 had been detained and some had their laptops seized from their homes. Footage showed one writer, Aydin Engin, 75, being ushered by plain clothes police into a hospital for medical checks.
Asked by reporters to comment on his detention, Engin said: “I work for Cumhuriyet, isn’t that enough?”
The detentions come a day after the firing of a further 10,000 civil servants and the closing of 15 other media outlets. Since the 15 July coup attempt, the government had already fired more than 100,000 people, detained 75,000 and arrested (which is a distinct and more legally serious measure in Turkey) another 35,000. What difference at this point does the arrest of 12 journalists make?
Quite a lot, actually. This marks the start of a new stage in the efforts to crush opposition to Erdogan’s rule. Until now, the purge has focused on those who have either plausibly had some association with the Gulenist movement, which the government blames for the coup (however tenuously), or on Kurds. As a result, the purge up to now hasn’t garnered much objection from the main opposition parties; nor has it particularly advanced Erdogan’s ultimate goal of establishing a Sultan-esque position for himself and institutional monopoly for his party. The (theoretically temporary) extension on October 3 of the State of Emergency law, which grants Erdogan effective power to rule by decree, raised eyebrows, but it didn’t end the post-coup honeymoon period that saw all of Turkey’s non-Kurdish opposition parties rally together in support of preserving democratic government.
Now, Erdogan’s Turkey has not been a friendly place, to put it mildly, for journalists or the opposition for some time. Cumhuriyet’s previous editor, Can Dundar, survived an assassination attempt in May while on trial for revealing Turkish intelligence’s support for Islamist rebels in Syria. He was convicted, and has since fled the country.
But the laughable charges against Cumhuriyet’s current staff—terroristic support for the Gulenist movement and the PKK—mark a new phase in Erdogan’s opposition suppression project. In an encouraging move, within hours of the arrests, Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu defied a ban imposed in Ankara against public demonstrations and met with with opposition protesters at a rally outside the newspaper’s offices. Speaking to the newspaper earlier that day, he was quoted as saying that Erdogan was building a Baathist regime.