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Turkey issues warrants for 42 journalists amid criticism

By Suzan Fraser and Christopher Torchia Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey on Monday issued warrants for the detention of 42 journalists suspected of links to the alleged organizers of a failed military uprising, intensifying concerns that a sweeping crackdown on alleged coup plotters could target media for any news coverage critical of the government.

While the Turkish government said it is investigating the journalists for possible criminal conduct rather than their reporting, critics warned that a state of emergency imposed after the July 15 coup attempt poses a threat to freedom of expression.

“We fear there will be a witch hunt which would include journalists known as `critical’ against the government. Because they are putting all journalists into one bag,” said Ahmet Abakay, president of the Progressive Journalists’ Association, a media group based in the Turkish capital Ankara. He said the situation was “very dangerous for every journalist” and that government warnings to reporters to be careful would lead to self-censorship.

“By rounding up journalists, the government is failing to make a distinction between criminal acts and legitimate criticism,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe.

More than 13,000 people in the military, judiciary and other institutions have been detained since the uprising, which killed about 290 people. In the latest purge, Turkish Airlines, the national carrier, said it has terminated the contracts of 221 employees. It said the contracts were ended for problems including conduct contrary to the national interest, such as “sponsoring” the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of fomenting the insurrection.

Those fired included seven people in managerial positions and 15 pilots, according to the private Turkish news agency Dogan.

Also Monday, security forces caught seven fugitive soldiers accused of raiding a hotel in the resort town of Marmaris shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan left it on the night of July 15, bringing the number of those detained for the attack to 25, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported. Security forces were searching for 10 others believed to be on the run near Marmaris.

Erdogan has said that he would have been killed or captured if he had he stayed at the hotel for an additional 10 or 15 minutes.

Berat Albayrak, the energy minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law, said the government would take care to ensure that anyone not involved in the coup conspiracy is not harmed during the crackdown. He told CNN Turk television that “it is doubtful this can be ensured 100 percent” and that “some minor difficulties can occur.”

Gulen, who lives in the United States, has denied any involvement in the failed insurrection that was put down by loyalist forces and pro-government protesters who converged on the tanks of rebel units.

On Monday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced Turkey has renamed Istanbul’s Bosporus Bridge “July 15th Martyrs’ Bridge” in honor of civilians who were killed resisting the coup attempt. He said monuments dedicated to the civilians would be built in Ankara and Istanbul.

Yildirim also announced a decision to place Turkey’s paramilitary force and coast guard under the Interior Ministry instead of the military as part of efforts to restructure the Armed Forces. He said in another decision reached, the government would work with opposition parties represented in parliament to pass a series of amendments to the Constitution.

Journalists wanted for questioning include Nazli Ilicak, whose columns in the Ozgur Dusunce newspaper criticized Erdogan’s allegedly autocratic behavior as well as the crackdown on suspected supporters of Gulen’s movement. Turkish officials allege the movement infiltrated the state as part of a long-term plan to seize power.

Other wanted journalists include Erkan Acar, news editor of the Ozgur Dusunce, and news show host Erkan Akkus of the Can Erzincan TV station, according to the pro-government Sabah newspaper. Both media organizations are offshoots of the Bugun newspaper and Bugun TV, which were viewed as sympathetic to Gulen and were taken over in a police raid in October.

Another wanted journalist is Busra Erdal, a former columnist and legal reporter for the daily Zaman newspaper, taken over by authorities in March for alleged links to Gulen’s movement.

In a series of tweets, Erdal said police raided her house Monday morning and that she would head to the office of state prosecutors in Istanbul to testify. She said she had not committed any crime and that the only organization she is affiliated with is the Istanbul Bar Association.

Five journalists on the wanted list have so far been detained, Turkish media reported.

Nedim Sener, a journalist once jailed after investigating alleged infiltration of the Turkish state by Gulen supporters, noted that backers of the cleric targeted reporters such as himself in the years when they controlled parts of the police and judiciary. Newspapers allegedly sympathetic to Gulen, including Bugun and Zaman, supported investigations that were based on forged evidence, he said.

There were concerns about media freedom in Turkey well before the coup attempt. The government, arguing that it acts in the name of national security, has prosecuted Kurdish journalists under terror laws for alleged links to Kurdish rebels.

Since the coup attempt, the government has blocked 20 websites suspected of being a threat to security, including those of six news outlets and two television channels.

Last week, Turkish police halted distribution of LeMan magazine and went store to store, collecting already distributed copies. The satirical weekly had published a “special coup edition” whose cartoon cover showed a big hand pushing small soldiers across a board or table to confront a larger number of civilians, also being pushed into the fray by a big hand.

The magazine has often lampooned the government. Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, has also been a target of its satire.

The magazine’s editor, Zafer Aknar, says he’s concerned about the future.

“Who is going to protect us? There is no judiciary, there is no independence,” the 51-year-old told the Associated Press on Monday.

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