An Istanbul court on Saturday ordered the formal arrest of nine employees of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, widening Turkey’s crackdown on dissenting voices. The arrests came hours after a bomb in the country’s southeast killed two children.
The formal arrests, which come a day after nine co-leaders of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were jailed pending trial, are likely to spark more concern among Turkey’s allies about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s intolerance of dissent in the wake of a failed July 15 coup.
More than 110,000 officials, including judges, teachers, police and civil servants, have been detained or suspended following the botched coup. Erdogan’s critics say he is using the coup as a pretext to squash the opposition, while Ankara says the crackdown is necessary to root out terrorists.
The Cumhuriyet staff placed under arrest had been held earlier this week. They include Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, celebrated cartoonist Musa Kart and influential anti-Erdogan columnist Kadri Gursel — some of the most prominent names in Turkish journalism — the state-run Anadolu and private Dogan news agencies said.
The suspects are charged with links to the outlawed Kurdish militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the movement of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Erdogan for the failed coup bid. Gulen denies the accusations.
Like the nine HDP MPs, the newspaper staff will now be held behind bars ahead of a trial, a date for which has yet to be set.
The arrests have heightened concern among Western allies about the political direction of Turkey, a NATO member and a buffer between Europe and the conflicts raging in Syria and Iraq.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was “extremely worried” by the arrests, and raised her concerns in a telephone call with Turkey’s foreign and EU affairs ministers late on Friday. The United States, meanwhile, expressed “deep concern”.
Deadly bomb blasts
Hours after Friday’s detentions, a car bomb killed 11 people and wounded more than 100 near a police station in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir where some of the lawmakers were being held.
The government immediately blamed the PKK for the attack, but the Amaq news agency, which is linked to the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, said that its fighters were behind the bombing, the SITE Intelligence Group said. There has so far been no comment from the PKK.
In a separate attack on Saturday, at least two children were killed and four more were wounded when a bomb went off in the south-eastern province of Sirnak. According to the local governor’s office, the bomb had been planted by PKK militants. The deadly blast occurred just hours after authorities appointed a new mayor to the Sirnak municipality in a move to replace municipal officials it accuses of supporting the PKK.
Turkish authorities have also sparked controversy by slapping restrictions on social media and messaging services like WhatsApp.
Users encountered problems on Friday and Saturday loading social media and also using Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections which people often use to circumvent such restrictions.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
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