Consternation after Cumhuriyet arrests

The editor-in-chief and other staff at Turkey's leading opposition paper Cumhuriyet were arrested at the start of this week. The prosecution has charged them with supporting the Kurdish PKK and the movement led by Turkish preacher Fetullah Gülen. Commentators across Europe are alarmed by the developments.

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Agos (TR) /

Erdoğan regime finally shows its true colours

The arrests of Cumhuriyet staff and the mayor of Diyarbakir in recent days once again expose the true nature of the Erdoğan regime, writes Agos, the weekly paper of the Armenian minority:

“Each week a new emergency decree, each week a new wave of arrests, each week the closure of newspapers, news agencies, TV channels and culture journals. Clearly this no longer has anything to do with the fight against those behind the coup. Simply pointing out that the foundations of a new regime are being built is nothing new. We've been saying that non-stop since June 7 [2015, when the AKP lost its majority in parliamentary elections]. But the events of the past week have revealed the true nature of this regime. We're seeing things we didn't see even in the days after [the coup of] 12 September 1980. ... It's clear as day: we're living in coup-like circumstances.”

Politiken (DK) /

Suspend membership talks with Turkey

There is no point in continuing the accession negotiations between the EU and Turkey after the arrests at Cumhuriyet, Politiken asserts:

“The events of the past week demonstrate that Turkey does not currently fulfil the Copenhagen criteria which guarantee democracy and human rights. Meaning the country doesn't fulfil the requirements for EU accession candidates. The EU should make that clear and suspend the accession negotiations. At the same time, however, it should also clearly state that the negotiations will resume as soon as Turkey turns back in the direction of democracy. Turkey is welcome in Europe and the EU at all times. But only a democratic Turkey - not the totalitarian state that Erdoğan is setting up.”

Star (TR) /

Arrests could do great harm to coup trials

The arrests at Cumhuriyet will do more to hinder the attempted coup investigation than to advance it, columnist Lütfü Oflaz asserts in the pro-government daily Star:

“Will the legal authorities be able to prove the charges in a way that satisfies the people? And if not, won't the government be accused of using the fight against Fetö [the Fethullahist Terror Organisation, the name the government uses to refer to the Gülen movement] and the PKK to silence the entire opposition? And won't Fetö and PKK profit most from this? … More than anyone else I want the real insurgents to receive the punishment they deserve. But the coup trials must not be poisoned by lumping together the guilty and the innocent. The credibility of the coup trials must not be undermined. The government wasn't able to avoid this with the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials, but with the Fetö coup trials it must succeed.”

Kristeligt Dagblad (DK) /

The West is losing Turkey

Kristeligt Dagblad sees Turkey turning away from the West, and not just since the recent attacks on press freedom:

“Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is becoming a major and growing problem for the democratic world. For many years the US and EU were secure in the belief that even if Turkey did threaten to go off course, they could still keep it on a long leash and rein it in if necessary. But its new closeness to Russia, the attempt to secure its military participation in the battle for Mosul, its war against the Kurds and the oppression of the free press and the opposition show that the West is losing this big country which was traditionally a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. … The ties between Washington and Berlin-Brussels and Ankara that still officially exist have become very fragile.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Like the death sentence of an old friend

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now cemented his autocratic leadership, columnist Alev Scott laments in the Financial Times:

“The news struck an emotional blow more severe than anything to have occurred during the relentless erosion of press freedom since July - or, arguably, since the Gezi Park protests of June 2013. ... Mr Erdogan is popular, certainly - his party won 49 per cent of the vote in the general election in November last year. But popular sovereignty without the rule of law is tyranny, and Turkey today in effect has no rule of law. Whether Mr Erdogan’s popularity endures is irrelevant - a power structure is now in place that will ensure his leadership for years to come. Cumhuriyet’s imminent demise feels like the death sentence of an old friend. Monday was the day many Turks lost hope.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Turkey needs Cumhuriyet

The future doesn't look good for Turkey after the attack on Cumhuriyet, writes columnist Mustafa Akyol in the Hürriyet Daily News:

“Turkey, of course, has rapidly moved away from 'first world freedom problems,' putting itself in a completely different league over the past few years. For the past week, every time I opened my Twitter account I saw yet another line of breaking news showing me that we Turks really are heading to a very concerning future. The raid on daily Cumhuriyet, of course, was the most striking example among all that breaking news. Cumhuriyet is Turkey’s oldest newspaper, a citadel of the secular-Kemalist-leftist tradition, which I am not a big fan of but which certainly has an important place in our society and which absolutely must be free. ... It is inevitable that liberty will only suffer more in such a political setting. The only remaining question is: How far will we go down the rabbit hole? And exactly when will we reach the bottom?”

T24 (TR) /

Absurd accusations against opposition paper

The accusations are very far-fetched, the liberal web paper T24 criticises:

“The whole world knows that ever since it was founded in 1924 Cumhuriyet has always taken a centre-left course that aims to defend democracy. This is why it was the paper that was most frequently closed down whenever there was a coup. This is why it is the paper with the highest number of murdered journalists. And this is why there have often been attempts to cut off its money supplies in the last 60 to 70 years. But it always found a way out. It never had any financial ties to a political government. It is the most deeply-rooted and oldest plane tree in Turkey's press landscape. … To accuse the arrested employees Hikmet Çetinkaya, Aydın Engin, Güray Öz, Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gürsel, Musa Kart, Turban Günay and the foundation managers of committing crimes in the name of the PKK and FETÖ [the Gülen movement] is absurd. Ultimately this is just an attempt to silence another dissenting voice.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

EU must consider sanctions against Turkey

In reaction to the arrests of 13 employees of the independent daily Cumhuriyet the EU must start thinking about imposing sanctions on Turkey, Handelsblatt demands:

“The dismantling of the rule of law continues. Turkey is moving faster and faster towards dictatorship. Erdoğan himself described the attempted coup on July 15 as a 'gift from god' because it gave him the opportunity to 'purge' the military. … With these latest acts of repression against critical media and his plans for reintroducing the death penalty Erdoğan is obviously testing how far he can go. He is relying on the fact that the EU needs him as a partner in the refugee crisis. That may be, but it's not a carte blanche to do whatever he likes. If he reintroduces the death penalty he will cross a red line. It's not enough simply to suspend the already stalled membership negotiations or to throw the country out of the Council of Europe. An EU that imposes sanctions against Russia must have the courage to use this instrument against Turkey too if necessary.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Soon on a par with North Korea

The situation of press freedom in Turkey is appalling, writes the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza:

“Working conditions at Cumhuriyet haven't been easy for some time now. The so-called Islamic State has targeted it because of its leftist profile. When members of the organisation were arrested plans of the paper's editing offices were found. Moreover President Erdoğan has declared the journalists his personal enemies because he simply can't tolerate criticism. … Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries on the Reporters without Borders ranking list - even lower than Russia. And it is likely to drop even further in the ranking because the list was drawn up before the attempted coup. That means Turkey will end up with a similar ranking to North Korea. This is what the country ruled by Erdoğan is heading for.”

Sabah (TR) /

Arrests were justified

The arrests are justified in the opinion of the pro-government daily Sabah:

“Cumhuriyet has lost its old qualities, particularly since [former editor-in-chief] Can Dündar started working there. While Cumhuriyet, as a representative of traditional Kemalist reflexes, should really have ignored Fetö and the PKK, instead it supported them. … Dündar and the paper's executive board chairman Akın Atalay fled abroad, leaving behind those who served the PKK and Fetö to manage the paper. Yesterday government spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş said that the investigations were aimed at corporations. It's clear that in the course of the investigations the government wants to purge the Cumhuriyet corporation of Fetö elements and PKK supporters and give it back to the Atatürk supporters, its true owners. This is not only good for Cumhuriyet but it is also being done in the name of press freedom in Turkey.”

More opinions

Die Welt (DE) / 03 November 2016
  EU must draw a red line or Erdoğan will break all taboos (in German)
Cumhuriyet (TR) / 01 November 2016
  Cumhuriyet will not be silenced (in Turkish)