An employee of prominent pro-Kurdish television channel IMC TV cries as Turkish police raid the headquarters of the TV channel on Oct. 4 in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

It was just after noon when police stormed the local television station and cut the feed as employees — stunned but defiant — looked on.

“The truth cannot be silenced!” the reporters chanted as authorities charged through the studio.

The channel, aligned with the Kurdish opposition, was one of dozens of outlets closed last week as Turkey expanded a crackdown that began after a coup attempt in July.

Thousands of soldiers, bureaucrats, professors and doctors have been suspended or detained since the attempted revolt, which the government blames on an Islamic preacher exiled in the United States. But nearly three months later, authorities have shifted their focus to other perceived enemies of the state.

In recent weeks, officials have targeted the country’s Kurdish minority community, arresting local leaders and shuttering pro-Kurdish institutions such as the news channel IMC TV. Turkey’s government has a history of clamping down on ethnic Kurds, who make up nearly 20 percent of the country’s 75 million people and have fought for autonomy for years.


On Sunday, a car bomb detonated by Kurdish militants at a security checkpoint killed 18 people, including 10 Turkish troops, in the southeastern province of Hakkari. The explosion, which left a deep crater, was a reminder of the ongoing conflict between the two sides.

But emergency powers established after the coup attempt have granted officials the authority to go after all opponents and critics. At least 50,000 people have been detained, and more than 100,000 have been suspended or dismissed from state jobs. The Council of Europe, a leading human rights organization, said the government now enjoys “almost unlimited discretionary powers” that threaten the country’s already fragile democracy.

“The government had two choices: They could have expanded democracy or become more authoritarian” following the attempted overthrow, said Ugur Guc, president of the Journalists Union of Turkey.

The coup attempt, which took place July 15, saw a rebel faction of the military seize aircraft and send tanks to parliament. But government supporters rushed to the streets to defend the country from army rule.

Now, “they are closing television and radio stations,” Guc said of the government, led by the increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And “societies where there is no freedom of thought and no freedom of expression . . . they are not democratic ones,” he said.

Indeed, the order to shut IMC TV and more than 20 other outlets — most of them linked with Kurdish political parties or causes — was issued by decree and accused the channels of airing “terrorist propaganda.”

The terrorism accusations refer to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been locked in a guerrilla war with the Turkish state for years. But under Turkey’s state of emergency, the cabinet has the power to issue such edicts, which are then signed by the president and leave few avenues for appeal.

“Even before the state of emergency, it was common for academics, NGOs and journalists to feel pressure from the courts,” said Erol Onderoglu, Turkey representative for the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

Onderoglu was briefly detained this year for “distributing terror propaganda” because of his support for a pro-Kurdish outlet, Ozgun Gundem. More than 100 media outlets have been closed since the coup attempt, Reporters Without Borders said.

“But the decrees that have come from the state of emergency show us that we have bypassed the law” since then, Onderoglu said. “And that they are being used as a tool” to suppress the opposition.

Academics, writers, politicians and professionals have all been affected by the purge. Actors have been dismissed by government-run theaters, and authorities have canceled or confiscated the passports of writers critical of state officials. Health clinics were shut down, and spouses of alleged supporters of the coup attempt detained.

“The state is trying to create one voice,” said Nurcan Kaya, a lawyer and coordinator for the Minority Rights Group, an international advocacy organization. “There is a desire [on the part of the government] to destroy all opposition.”

Kurdish activists and politicians, however, are especially under threat, Kaya said.

In 2015, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party won enough parliamentary seats to threaten the majority of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party. But soon after, the government’s two-year-old truce with the PKK fell apart, and Turkey’s military renewed operations in Kurdish strongholds in the southeast.

IMC TV, which later grew popular for its progressive news coverage, began reporting on the civilian impact of the offensives, which rights groups say have displaced more than 350,000 in the past year. Another channel, Zarok TV, was pulled off the air despite having exclusively broadcast Kurdish-language cartoons for children.

In September, the government seized control of more than two dozen municipalities in the south, most of which are majority Kurd.

The arrests drew protests and even a statement from the U.S. Embassy, imploring Turkish authorities to quickly hold new local elections.

“The state of emergency is not being used to fight coup plotters . . . but to seize the Kurdish opposition,” said Veysel Keser, a local official ousted from a district in the province of Van.

In a report released Friday, the Council of Europe called the removal of the local Kurdish mayors “collective sanction.” The officials were elected in 2014.

“There has been no court decision,” Keser said of the government move to seize Kurdish-run municipalities.

“Even if something did take place,” Keser said, denying any wrongdoing, “it is through the judiciary that these alleged crimes would be punished.”

The opposition Republican People’s Party has filed appeals with the Constitutional Court to repeal some of the decrees. But few activists and opposition leaders believe the decrees will be subject to any legal scrutiny.

“We wanted a country with many voices. We wanted everything to be open for debate,” Turgay Olcayto, president of the Turkish Journalists’ Association, said at a news conference on the media closures.

“But now there is a police state here,” he said. “Turkey is now a country where there is no democracy.”