Turkish police have reportedly detained several people, including an employee of the anti-Islamist newspaper Cumhuriyet, for participating in an assembly against the Islamic State and calling for secularism in light of the jihadist attack on Reina nightclub in Istanbul.
The individuals in question are members of a Halkevleri (“People’s Houses”), a Kemalist social project described as an “enlightenment group” established during the regime of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Ayşegül Başar was detained on January 2, according to the newspaper Hurriyet, for appearing in a video listening to a speech by fellow Halkevleri member Ergin Çevik.
Başar can be seen in the background of a video of the event that began circling social media following the massacre at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve, for which the Islamic State has taken credit. She is listening to Çevik, who encourages listeners to raise “the flag of secularism” against Islamists. “Secularism means freedom, brotherhood and struggling for a humane life. We are calling on everyone to be soldiers of this struggle. We are calling on you to bring fascists and lovers of the presidential system to account.”
The mention of the presidential system – which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been attempting to implement instead of the current parliamentary system – prompted some Islamists on social media to alert the Interior Ministry as to the event on Twitter. “Terrorists are inviting people to civil war in Okmeydanı. Stop these traitors,” a user wrote on Twitter. The Interior Ministry responded by detaining Ayşegül Başar. She is expected to remain behind bars for five days.
Sabah, a newspaper favorable to the Erdogan government, reported Başar’s detention as necessary in the context of her alleged support for the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a Communist terrorist group. The newspaper reported the Halkevleri members speaking at a teahouse as an attempt “to provoke people to take the streets and incite chaos in coffeehouses” and claimed the controversial speech in question was not about secularism, but “merely a propaganda for the outlawed group.”
Sabah’s evidence for Başar’s terrorist sympathies is an anti-government tweet from 2015 following the DHKP-Cs assassination of prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz.
Başar is an intern at Cumhuriyet, which has repeatedly found itself in the crosshairs of the Turkish government. Her byline features numerous postings of video and a report on the rise of gun purchases throughout the country in the past year.
Cumhuriyet‘s pro-secularist leanings led it to publish a Turkish-language inset version of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in the wake of a jihadist attack against the publication in 2015, leading to a government raid. Turkish authorities later arrested Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul and editor-in-chief Can Dündar following the publication of a report suggesting the Turkish intelligence agency MIT was smuggling weapons into Syria. In December, police arrested the newspaper’s cook for promising to refuse Erdogan tea if he ever stepped foot in his cafeteria.
While Başar is currently in police custody, the architect of the Reina nightclub attack remains at large. Police announced Tuesday that they have identified the prime suspect as a Kyrgyz national and have released a photo. The suspect reportedly entered Turkey as a refugee through Syria, along with a wife and child. The Islamic State praised the jihadist as a “heroic soldier of the caliphate” in a statement taking credit for the massacre on Monday. The suspect killed 39 people, most Middle Eastern tourists, on New Year’s Eve.