October 31, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish police detained the chief editor and at least eight senior staff of Turkey’s opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper on Monday in a continuing crackdown on dissenting voices. Editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, the paper’s lawyer and several columnists were taken into custody following raids at their homes, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. Police were searching the homes of other senior staff, including the paper’s cartoonist. In all, police had warrants for the detentions of 16 staff members, the paper said.

The detentions at the left-leaning and pro-secular Cumhuriyet — one of Turkey’s oldest newspapers — come amid accusations by opposition parties and human rights groups that Turkey is using the state of emergency imposed following a failed military coup in July to clamp down not only on the alleged coup plotters but on all government critics.

A statement from the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said those detained were suspected of “committing crimes” on behalf of the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — accused by the government of masterminding the coup attempt — as well as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

The statement said that while those detained are not accused of membership of the Gulen movement or the PKK, there are “claims” and “proof” that shortly before the July 15 coup attempt, the suspects published content that attempted to legitimize the coup. Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.

Authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people as part of an investigation into the coup and more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs in a purge to eradicate Gulen’s network of followers. The government over the weekend issued two new decrees that dismissed some 10,000 additional civil servants and shut down 15 mostly pro-Kurdish media outlets.

Sibel Gunes, general secretary of the Turkish Journalists’ Association, told The Associated Press that some 170 media outlets have been shut down since the attempted coup and 105 journalists have been arrested. In addition, authorities revoked the press accreditation of more than 600 journalists while thousands of journalists have been left unemployed, Gunes said.

Opposition legislators, including Mahmut Tanal of the Republican People’s Party, rushed to Cumhuriyet’s headquarters in a show of solidarity and condemned the “unlawful and completely political” raid.

“This is an operation against the mentality that defends the secular rule of law. It is an operation against citizens’ right to information, right to learn. We will not remain silent,” Tanal said. Cumhuriyet columnist Ayse Yildirim said the detentions could be a prelude toward a government takeover of the newspaper.

“We are not going to hand over Cumhuriyet, we are not going to allow them to assign a trustee. We will hold our heads high and continue our publication without fear,” she said outside of the paper’s Istanbul headquarters.

Cartoonist Musa Kart, who was also wanted for questioning, told reporters outside the building as he left to turn himself into police: “How will they explain this to the world? I am being taken into custody for drawing cartoons.” Kart has been prosecuted in the past for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a cartoon.

Anadolu Agency said authorities had also issued a warrant for the arrest of the paper’s former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, who was sentenced to five years in prison in May for reports in Cumhuriyet on alleged arms smuggling to Syrian rebels. The verdict is being appealed. Dundar left Turkey after the coup attempt citing a lack of judicial independence and saying he would not receive a fair trial under the circumstances.

Meanwhile, two prominent Kurdish politicians, Gultan Kisanak, the mayor of Turkey’s largest Kurdish-populated city of Diyarbakir, and co-mayor Firat Anli, were formally put under arrest on Sunday, days after they were taken into custody for questioning on terrorism-related charges. The two are accused of “speaking positively about the terror organization,” referring to the PKK, and allowing the use of municipal vehicles for Kurdish militants’ funerals, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Access to the internet in the region has been periodically blocked since Wednesday — a move which rights activists say is aimed at restricting calls for demonstrations to denounce the mayors’ detentions through social media.

Associated Press writers Cinar Kiper in Istanbul and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.