Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns the arrest today of Akın Atalay, board chairman of the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, at Istanbul airport on his return from Germany.
His lawyer, Bahri Bayram Belen, told journalists: “We don’t know how long he will remain in police custody. It is possible he may be imprisoned (after they have finished questioning him) because we are witnessing a political operation against the newspaper, with no basis in law.”
RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said: “This unprecedented wave of arrests of journalists and media workers based on absurd allegations cannot go on. The international community must do everything in its power to make the Turkish government understand that this headlong crackdown will not be without consequences.”
Nine Cumhuriyet journalists and other employees were detained on 5 November as part of an investigation into alleged links to terrorist organizations, namely the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement.
Arrest warrants were issued for Atalay and Can Dündar, Cumhuriyet’s former editor-in-chief who is now in exile. The newspaper was awarded the 2015 RSF-TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize in the media category.
In another anti-terrorism investigation, against the Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, the public prosecutor yesterday demanded life imprisonment for novelist and columnist Aslı Erdoğan and nine other employees of the paper.
They were arrested when the newspaper was closed by the police in August and accused of membership of a terrorist organization, carrying out terrorist propaganda and undermining national unity. The court has two weeks to approve the indictment. RSF reiterates its call to sign the petition in support of Asli Erdoğan’s release.
Already ranked 151st of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey has been sinking deeper into unprecedented repression since the coup attempt on 15 July. The authorities are using the state of emergency to stifle any criticism. News organizations are being closed down and press accreditations and passports withdrawn, and more than 100 journalists are now behind bars.