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Turkey: Police Detain Online Editor of Opposition Newspaper in Latest Media Crackdown

The Turkish government has detained the editor in chief of the online edition of the newspaper Cumhuriyet, Oğuz Güven. The newspaper says it has not been given a reason for the detention, though state-run Turkish media reported the detention regarded a report published on the site regarding the death of a prosecutor.

Cumhuriyet has consistently criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). Twelve of its employees are currently in prison, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.

Güven posted on Twitter early Friday morning the phrase, “I have been detained,” with no explanation. According to the newspaper, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has “extended the detention period of the Investigative Bureau of Press Crimes to 7 days.” Hurriyet cites the Turkish-language Anadolu News Agency, a government organization, as relating the detention to “a report regarding the death of a chief public prosecutor in a car accident in the western province of Denizli.” The man in question, Denizli Chief Public Prosecutor Mustafa Alper, was killed after a truck crashed into their car.

Hurriyet did not speculate as to what about the report in question would have attracted the attention of the police, only noting that Alper was working on a case against supporters of the Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the government considers a terrorist leader and blames for a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016.

Cumhuriyet‘s staff has been among the most affected by a crackdown on suspected supporters of Gulen or supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S. designated Marxist terrorist group. The newspaper has a secularist, center-left bent and has published multiple pieces critical of Erdogan.

Güven assumed the leadership of Cumhuriyet online following the arrest of the former editor-in-chief, Murat Sabuncu, accused of supporting the PKK.

Turkish secularists and journalists are denouncing Güven’s detention. “We learned that Güven and journalist Serhat Yaruk were detained in the early hours of the day. At a time when we were expecting journalists to be released and tried without arrest, new detentions and arrests don’t befit democracy,” the Turkish Press Council said in a statement.

Multiple members of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), a secularist party founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, have also condemned the arrest in quick statements on Twitter. “I protest against the fascist attack on the Cumhuriyet Newspaper Web Site General Editor Oğuz Güven,” CHP Istanbul Provincial Chairman Mahmut Tanal tweeted. Colleague and CHP Istanbul representative Barış Yarkadaş called the arrest “unacceptable.”

The NGO Amnesty International has also condemned the move. “Since their crackdown on the media escalated dramatically following the coup attempt last July, the Turkish authorities have been relentless in their hounding of Cumhuriyet, which is now one of the country’s last remaining opposition newspapers,” Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey Researcher, said in a statement. ““Reports that Oğuz Güven was apparently detained on the basis of a single headline reflect the terrifying new reality for journalists in Turkey, where one word out of place can get you locked up.”

While Cumhuriyet is far from the only publication facing intense pressure from the government to support the Islamist leadership, the newspaper has faced a particularly aggressive wave of arrests in the past two years for its reporting. From interns to the Cumhuriyet cafeteria cook, police have targeted anyone associated with the newspaper.

In April, Anadolu reported that nineteen Cumhuriyet employees had been indicted on a variety of charges including “sponsoring the PKK, Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) and leftist DHKP/C terrorist organizations.” The latter is a small communist terrorist organization that has assassinated Turkish officials.

“Prison sentences requested by the prosecution range from seven-and-a-half years to 43 years,” Anadolu reported.

Among the nineteen is the former editor-in-chief of the publication, Can Dündar, currently exiled in Germany. Dündar and Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül were arrested in 2015 after publishing a story revealing evidence that the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) was clandestinely shipping weapons to Arab Syrian rebels. Following his last hearing in Turkey, an assassin targeted Dündar at the steps of the courthouse hearing his case. The failed attack was caught on video.

Cumhuriyet persisted, later reporting that it had evidence the Islamic State had cooperated with Turkish border control to smuggle jihadists into Syria.

Long before Dündar’s arrest, police raided the offices of Cumhuriyet to prevent the publication of a Turkish-language inset of the French humor magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had recently faced a jihadist attack on its offices for having published a likeness of Muhammad.

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