Turkey on Friday detained the board chairman of opposition daily Cumhuriyet, the target of an intensifying crackdown since July’s failed coup which has further fuelled tensions between Ankara and Europe.
Akin Atalay was taken into custody at Istanbul’s main international airport after arriving from Germany, said Cumhuriyet, which also saw nine of its staff arrested last week amid swelling concern over media freedom in Turkey.
The paper has in recent years taken a strong line against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Atalay was targeted by a warrant that was part of a probe into “terrorist activities”, and ushered into a police vehicle waiting for him on the tarmac.
Some 35,000 people have been arrested and tens of thousands more have lost their jobs — including military officers, judges, teachers, civil servants and journalists — in a sweeping crackdown in the wake of the failed July bid to oust Erdogan.
Since the coup attempt, more than 100 journalists have been arrested while 170 media outlets including newspapers and broadcasters have been closed down, the Turkey Journalists’ Association has said on its website.
Turkey was ranked 151st of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom index published by the campaign group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Speaking to AFP, RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles described what she called “an unprecedented wave of arrests… under the guise of absurd accusations.”
She appealed to the world community to “make the Turkish government understand that this repressive response cannot go without consequences.”
Last week, nine MPs from the opposition pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), including its co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, were detained pending a trial on terror charges expected to begin Friday.
The arrests have fuelled tensions between Ankara and the European Union, which has made no secret of its concerns over the scale of the Turkish crackdown since the foiled coup.
Protesting against the criticism, hundreds demonstrated outside the French embassy in Ankara and the German consulate in Istanbul on Friday, chanting anti-Europe slogans.
“We stand with our government,” “Stop supporting terrorists,” “Terrorism will burn you one day” were among the chants outside the French diplomatic mission, an AFP photographer said.
– ‘Backsliding’ on fundamental rights –
Cumhuriyet’s exiled former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, fled to Germany earlier this year while appealing against a prison term for revealing state secrets.
Dundar was given nearly six years behind bars for a story about a shipment of arms intercepted at the Syrian border, which had prompted a furious Erdogan to warn him he would “pay a heavy price”.
Among the nine to be held ahead of trial were Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, celebrated cartoonist Musa Kart and influential anti-Erdogan columnist Kadri Gursel.
However, two columnists were released on bail on health grounds and because of their age, while two other suspects from the newspaper’s accounting department were released without charge.
The suspects are charged with links to the Kurdish militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the movement of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the failed coup bid. Gulen denies the accusations.
In its latest report on Turkey’s long-stalled EU bid, the bloc said on Wednesday that it had serious concerns over “backsliding in the area of rule of law and fundamental rights.”
Turkey blasted the report saying it was “far from objective”.
Meanwhile Friday authorities in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast said a bomb blast had killed a local government official and wounded at least two other people.
The explosion, which state-run Anadolu news agency blamed on the PKK, tore through the area near a government building in the town of Derik on Thursday.
Also Friday a French journalist was detained while on a reporting trip to the southeastern Gaziantep province, his employer said.
Olivier Bertrand was “detained without reason,”! Isabelle Roberts of online media Les Jours told AFP, adding: “We demand his immediate release .. We are very worried, we are waiting for news.”