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US Deeply Concerned by Turkey's Increased Pressure on Opposition Media

A man reads Cumhuriyet newspaper outside its Ankara office after Turkish police detained the chief editor and at least eight senior staff of Turkey's opposition newspaper, Oct. 31, 2016. The headline reads: "The coup against opposition again."

The United States is “deeply concerned” by what appears to be an increase in official pressure on opposition media outlets in Turkey after Monday's detention of senior staff from Cumhuriyet, "one of Turkey's most respected newspapers."

“We encourage the government of Turkey to ensure that the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are protected,” said State Department spokesperson John Kirby during Monday’s briefing, adding “democracy becomes stronger by allowing diverse expression of views, particularly in difficult times.”

While Washington supported Ankara’s efforts to locate those responsible for the failed coup attempt on July 15, the shuttering of more news outlets and the detention of additional journalists over the weekend was worrying, said the State Department.

Media outlets shut down

The detention of Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and other senior staff followed the removal of more than 10,000 civil servants, the academics, teachers and health workers on Saturday. More than a dozen media outlets were also shut down over the weekend.

A senior U.S. official told a small group of media on Monday that in the longer term, the development over the weekend is “more concerning” because of “the insertion of the president into the selection process for all of the rectors of the universities in Turkey.”

Those detained were accused of violating Turkey’s anti-terror law and providing support to the Kurdish rebel group, or followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The U.S.-based Gulen was blamed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government for orchestrating the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

Compared to 9/11 attacks

That senior official, who wished not to be named, said the coup to many Turkish people was like the September 11 terrorist attacks (in the U.S.).

He said Erdogan’s government is “less responsive” than it has been at other times to Washington’s concerns and calls for press freedom and fundamental rights, partly because of “the suspicion in Turkish society and government” due to Gulen’s continuing presence in the U.S.

Turkey’s crackdown against civil servants and media outlets after the coup has alarmed Western allies and rights groups who fear Erdogan is using this to crush dissent.

According to human rights groups, more than 100 journalists have been jailed since July’s failed coup and the introduction of emergency rule.