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Turkey detains editor of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet

Istanbul Turkish police detained the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet on Monday, the latest move against the daily that has published revelations embarrassing for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

The newspaper said a dozen staff members were detained in early morning raids as part of a widening crackdown against opposition media which has seen dozens of journalists held.

The detentions come after Turkish authorities fired more than 10,000 civil servants at the weekend and closed 15 pro-Kurdish and other media outlets, the latest purge since the July coup bid.

Cumhuriyet editor Murat Sabuncu was detained and police were hunting for its executive board chairman Akin Atalay, the official news agency Anadolu said.

The Istanbul prosecutor said an investigation had been launched into allegations the paper’s output was “legitimising” the attempted putsch.

Demonstrators at the paper’s headquarters waved copies of the Monday edition which bore the headline “Coup against opposition”.

Cumhuriyet said an arrest warrant was also issued for its former editor-in-chief Can Dundar who was sentenced to jail in May for allegedly revealing state secrets in a high-profile case that triggered alarm about the state of press freedom in Turkey.

The newspaper had accused the government of seeking to illicitly deliver arms bound for Islamist rebels in Syria. Erdogan had warned Dundar he would “pay a heavy price”.

Dundar is now believed to be in Germany after he was freed earlier this year pending an appeal.

The International Press Institute said on Twitter an arrest warrant was issued for one of the rights group’s board members, Kadri Gursel, who also wrote for the daily.

The latest detentions came as the authorities pressed on with a massive crackdown over a failed bid to overthrow Erdogan by a rogue military faction.

Turkey has been under a state of emergency since the failed putsch blamed on exiled Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The Istanbul prosecutor said in a statement quoted by Turkish media that the newspaper and its owner the Cumhuriyet Foundation were being investigated over links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gulen movement.

The probe was looking at whether Cumhuriyet committed crimes on behalf of the two “terror organisations”, the prosecutor said.

– ‘Media cannot be silenced’ –

Tens of thousands of civil servants, soldiers, police, judges and teachers have been suspended, fired or detained since the attempted coup, a purge that has come under fire from Western leaders and rights groups.

A crowd of up to 70 people, including journalists and members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) gathered outside Cumhuriyet’s headquarters in Istanbul to protest at the detentions.

Carrying copies of the newspaper, demonstrators shouted: “The day will come, AKP will be brought to account,” referring to Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party.

“A free media cannot be silenced,” they chanted as riot police and a truck loaded with water cannon arrived.

Monday’s edition of the paper criticised the government’s weekend announcement of the closure of several media outlets as well as the suspension of university rector elections.

Erdogan is set to pick the winners from a pool of candidates selected by the nation’s education authority.

– ‘Unjustifiable limitations’ –

Cumhuriyet cartoonist Musa Kart described his detention as “ridiculous”.

“Until today, I have drawn hundreds and thousands of caricatures of the (Gulen movement) and PKK… Let me say this, what is happening is ridiculous. You will not scare anyone with this repression.”

While Turkey insists it is acting within the rule of law, organisations defending free speech have accused the government of violating human rights.

“Restrictions imposed under the state of emergency go beyond those permissible under international human rights law, including unjustifiable limitations on media freedom,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other rights groups said earlier this month.