Turkish opposition paper vows 'will not surrender' after staff detained

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 01, 2016 6:41 AM

By Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper vowed "we will not surrender" in a front-page headline on Tuesday, a day after its editor and a dozen top staff were detained on accusations of supporting a failed July coup.

Dozens of people staged a vigil in protest at the arrests in front of the newspaper's Istanbul offices overnight, some wrapped in blankets as they slept on benches while police guarded barriers outside.

The European Union and United States condemned the move against Cumhuriyet, a pillar of the country's secularist establishment. The government of Turkey, a NATO member which aspires to join the EU, has so far declined comment other than to say it is a legal issue.

Prosecutors accuse staff at the paper, one of few media outlets still critical of President Tayyip Erdogan, of committing crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and the network of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric.

The authorities blame Gulen for orchestrating the July 15 coup attempt in which rogue soldiers tried to seize power, killing more than 240 people. Gulen, in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, denies involvement.

In a subsequent crackdown, more than 110,000 people have been sacked or suspended and 37,000 jailed pending trial, drawing criticism from Western allies and rights groups who fear Erdogan is using the coup attempt to crush dissent.

"Even if Cumhuriyet's executives and writers are detained, our newspaper will continue its fight for democracy and freedom to the end," it said in a defiant editorial which described the arrests as the start of an attempt to close the paper.

State-run Anadolu agency said the investigation included allegations that Cumhuriyet acted in line with the goals of Gulen's network, publishing stories which aimed to create chaos and make the country impossible to rule.

But Cumhuriyet said its pages had repeatedly warned that Gulen's movement represented a danger to the Republic and wanted to abolish secularism. The paper said it had in the past been targeted by prosecutors and judges aligned with Gulen.

NO ACCESS TO LAWYERS

The latest detainee on Monday evening was veteran Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel, who began writing for Cumhuriyet in May, bringing the number of those held to 13, the paper said. Three more staff targeted by the investigation are abroad.

It said the detainees, whose computers and mobile phones were confiscated, were not being allowed to speak to their lawyers under emergency rule, imposed after the putsch, which allows authorities to block access to lawyers for five days.

The staunchly secularist paper was established in 1924 by a confidant of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk just six months after he established the Turkish Republic.

Political violence has dogged its history. Seven of its writers have been assassinated since 1978 and some were among those jailed after coups in 1971 and 1980.

Cumhuriyet's previous editor, Can Dundar, was jailed last year, convicted of publishing state secrets involving Turkey's support for Syrian rebels. The case sparked censure from rights groups and Western governments worried about worsening human rights in Turkey under Erdogan.

Anadolu said the latest probe included allegations that Dundar met with Gulenist prosecutors following corruption scandals targeting Erdogan's inner circle in late 2013 and subsequently published stories based on Gulenist claims.

Journalists at the paper were accused of seeking to precipitate the coup through "subliminal messages" in their columns before it happened, Anadolu reported.

Since the attempted coup, 170 newspapers, magazines, television stations and news agencies have been shut down, leaving 2,500 journalists unemployed, Turkey's journalists' association said in a statement on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Anna Willard)