Turkish prosecutors on Monday detained the editor of Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s most prominent opposition newspaper, just days after the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued decrees shuttering more than a dozen media outlets and dismissing more than 1,000 mostly leftist academics.
Taken together, the detentions and dismissals amounted to a significant expansion of a broad clampdown by Erdogan’s Islamist government on critical, secular-leaning voices since a failed coup attempt in July. They also raised new concerns about Turkey’s slide toward authoritarianism.
Erdogan has blamed the failed coup on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim preacher who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, and the authorities have moved forcefully in the past few months to purge Gulen’s sprawling network of supporters from state institutions. Rights groups say the crackdown, which has led to the dismissal of more than 100,000 people, has gone far beyond the Gulenists and swept up members of the Kurdish minority as well as other government opponents and critics.
Gulen has denied masterminding the botched coup, in which more than 250 people were killed.
Initial criticism of the purge by Turkey’s Western allies has become more muted as the United States and others have sought Erdogan’s cooperation in the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. U.S. officials have recently struggled to mediate a feud between the Turkish and Iraqi governments over Erdogan’s insistence that Turkish troops should play a role in the offensive underway to capture the Islamic State stronghold in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Turkey has also weathered an increasing number of attacks by Islamist and Kurdish militants, adding to the sense of domestic turmoil.
On Saturday, the U.S. State Department ordered the departure of family members of its diplomats in Istanbul, “based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack U.S. citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent.”
The State Department also issued a new warning about travel to Turkey, warning U.S. citizens of “increased threats from terrorist groups throughout the country.”
Cumhuriyet is one of Turkey’s oldest papers and was one of the few remaining media outlets that challenged Erdogan. Along with its editor, Murat Sabuncu, at least 12 other employees of the newspaper were detained, including Kadri Gursel, a noted columnist, and Musa Kart, the paper’s cartoonist. Police officers searched the homes of newspaper employees and confiscated laptops and other materials, the newspaper reported.
A statement by the Istanbul prosecutor’s office accused the detainees of supporting Gulen’s organization as well as the PKK, a Kurdish rebel group.
On Saturday, Turkey’s government issued a pair of decrees that expanded its powers under an emergency law passed after the coup and recently extended. The decrees ordered the dismissal of more than 10,000 public-sector employees, along with the academics.
“What they have shown now is that they are at the stage where they have no tolerance,” said Sezai Temelli, a professor of political science and economy at Istanbul University who was among the academics ordered dismissed Saturday. Temelli, a former parliamentarian with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, said the dismissed academics included left-leaning lecturers, teachers and medical workers. “The government is using the July 15 coup attempt as an excuse to silence all the opposition and democratic voices in the public,” he said.