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Turkish Police Raid Opposition Newspaper

A man holds the latest copy of Cumhuriyet outside its headquarters after Turkish police detained the chief editor and several of the opposition paper's senior staff, in Istanbul, Oct. 31, 2016, amid growing fears over Turkey's widening crackdown on independent media.

In Turkey concern is growing over the police raid and arrests of journalists working at the country's oldest newspaper - one of the few remaining media outlets critical of the government.

Hundreds gathered outside the headquarters of Cumhuriyet to protest the police raid on the paper and the arrest of its editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu. The paper’s website said arrest warrants had been issued for more than a dozen people linked to the paper, including many of its leading writers. Among those detained was 72-year-old columnist Aydin Engin.

Engin asked while being taken away by police why he was being detained. He said his writing for Cumhuriyet was reason enough.

All those detained are accused of violating Turkey’s ant-terror law and for giving support to the Kurdish rebel group the PKK or followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen is blamed by the government for being behind July’s failed coup attempt.

Ensuring 'government's version' of news

Emma Sinclair-Webb, chief Turkey researcher for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, says the raid is an alarming development.

"It's a very significant step, it shows the government’s complete wish to crackdown on all opposition independent media in Turkey. Cumhuriyet being almost the last mainstream media organ to remain. And it means that basically there will be just one version of the news in Turkey and that will be the government’s version."

An employee of Cumhuriyet, an opposition secularist daily newspaper, is seen at the publication's headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2016.
An employee of Cumhuriyet, an opposition secularist daily newspaper, is seen at the publication's headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 31, 2016.

Police also raided the home of the former editor of the paper, Can Dundar, who last year drew the ire of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a report accusing the government of supplying arms to jihadist groups fighting the Syrian regime. Dundar left the country after being convicted of revealing state secrets.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, condemned Monday’s arrests and called on writers and intellectuals to come out and defend the paper. “Don’t forget that if you keep silent now, you will be next,” he said.

International condemnation

The arrests have also drawn international condemnation. Rebecca Harms, leader of the Greens Party in the European Parliament, flew to Istanbul and joined protests outside the Cumhuriyet newspaper building. Harms in a statement said she planned to meet with government representatives.

Monday’s raids follows the closure over the weekend of 15 other media outlets, most linked to the pro-Kurdish movement, including Turkey’s only newspaper published in Kurdish and one of the world’s few women's news agencies. Human Rights Watch's Sinclair-Webb says the broad language of Turkey’s anti-terror laws gives the government a free hand against critics in the media.

"Any news they (government) don't like they just say is serving the aims of one or another terrorist organization; there is no evidence of terrorism, there is no evidence of advocating violence."

According to human rights groups, more than 100 journalists have been jailed since July’s failed coup and the introduction of emergency rule. The government defends the detentions saying they are in relation to terrorism and not for journalists' activities.