Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is under fire from human rights groups, the European Union, and international journalist associations for a mass arrest of 27 newspaper, television, and film workers considered to be critics of the Erdogan government.
According to Agence France-Presse, Erdogan’s authorities issued 31 warrants for arrest, though only 27 have been arrested, for a series of crimes related to open criticism of Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist rule. Among those arrested is Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily newspaper, whose arrest sparked the largest and loudest protests. Supporters gathered in front of the Zaman newspaper headquarters in an attempt to prevent police from entering, the AFP notes, though their efforts failed. Zaman is Turkey’s best-selling newspaper.
Upon being arrested, Dumanli told reporters: “Let those who have committed a crime be scared. We are not scared.”
AFP notes that others arrested include “a TV director, producers, scriptwriters and some police officers.” They were arrested for, among other crimes, “using intimidation and threats” to “form a gang to try and seize state sovereignty”, “forgery” and “slander.”
All are believed to be supporters or have ties to Fethullah Gulen, an Islamist cleric living in the United States who strongly opposes Erdogan. In April, Erdogan demanded that the United States extradite Gulen for trying to overthrow the Turkish government and “an effort to take away some power, and these efforts involved the security forces and judiciary.” Gulen has spoken publicly against Erdogan, but little, if any, evidence has been posited of his involvement in a coup.
Both national and international organizations have reacted to the arrests with outrage. The Turkish Journalists Association (TGC) and the Turkey Journalists’ Labor Union (TGS) released a joint statement condemning the arrests: “These developments mean that freedom of the press and opinion are punished in Turkey, which takes its place in the class of countries where the press is not free.”
The European Union, meanwhile, has reacted with condemnation. Foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini issued a statement condemning the arrests as “incompatible with the freedom of the media” and “against European values.”
Erdogan has responded to the European Union by essentially telling them to stop issuing statements. “Keep your opinions to yourselves,” was the official word from Istanbul on the arrests. He added that he was not concerned as to how the arrests would impact the potential for Turkey to join the European Union, and called the incident a “domestic security issue.”