Turkey Targets Media, Army, Police With Latest Coup Purges

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey launched a new round of its three-year crackdown on purported followers of a U.S.-based cleric it blames for an attempted coup, ordering the arrest of former employees of an opposition newspaper, active-duty military officers and police.

A court Thursday said eight people who used to work at the Cumhuriyet daily must return to prison to serve the remainder of their terms for terrorism-related offences, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. A day later, authorities issued arrest warrants for 210 military officers and more than 40 policemen, and jailed a former head of police intelligence, Sabri Uzun, pending trial on charges of terrorism and insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Authorities say the eight ex-newspaper employees aided groups including the outlawed network of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, allegations that have been directed at thousands of Turks since the failed 2016 military putsch against Erdogan.

Turkey has accused Gulen of masterminding the coup attempt and asked for his extradition from the U.S., where he has been in self-imposed exile for two decades.

“This criminal prosecution against media professionals for holding independent or critical views leads to the weakening of media freedom and grave restriction of freedom of expression in the country,” the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, said in an emailed statement on Friday.

“I once again urge the Turkish authorities to stop treating journalism as a criminal activity and journalists as terrorists.”

Six of the group, including cartoonist Musa Kart, were returned to prison to serve the rest of their jail sentences of more than three years, Reporters Without Borders said Thursday. The other two, including journalist Kadri Gursel, the head of the Turkey committee for the Vienna-based International Press Institute, were yet to receive a summons ordering them back to jail, it said.

Turkey Targets Media, Army, Police With Latest Coup Purges

They were officially charged with helping terrorist organizations without being a member -- accusations that all eight deny.

“I’ve already served time required under the sentence of two and half years,” Gursel said by phone on Friday. “So I have an undeniable and unquestionable right to be freed on probation.”

Reporters Without Borders, which defends the freedom of the press worldwide, said it was “appalled to see these leading figures being thrown in prison again,” in a statement by its Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu. “This is the culmination of a ruthless political vengeance that highlights the collapse of the rule of law. This persecution benefits no one and brings shame upon Turkey.”

Authorities have purged tens of thousands of army officers and police since the abortive coup in 2016 as Erdogan has tried to exert full control over the country’s security institutions and eliminate any sign of dissent against his rule.

Turkey shut down more than a hundred news outlets, many of them Kurdish, and tightened anti-terrorism laws after the attempted military takeover. The country ranks 157th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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