The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed concern after authorities in Turkey detained the editor-in-chief of the online edition of independent daily newspaper Cumhuriyet.
The newspaper said it was notified that Oğuz Güven had been ordered detained for seven days on accusations of making propaganda for a terrorist organisation. Cumhuriyet representatives also indicated that lawyers had been denied access to Güven until at least tomorrow.
The pro-government Anadolu news agency said that Güven was detained in relation to a headline on a news story on Cumhuriyet’s website about the death of prosecutor Mustafa Alper on Wednesday when his vehicle collided with a truck in Denizli, in south-west Turkey.
The headline indicated that Alper, the first prosecutor to prepare indictments targeting the movement headed by Fethullah Gülen in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt that Turkey’s government blames on the U.S.-based cleric, had been “torn apart” in the collision. The headline was later changed to indicate that Alper “died horribly”.
Representatives of Cumhuriyet, however, maintained that the case was linked to the Turkish government’s ongoing campaign of persecution against the newspaper for its critical stance.
IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis rejected the reported reasons behind the detention.
“Even if the headline was arguably insensitive, that certainly does not warrant imprisonment or denial of due process,” he said. “Moreover, the suggestion that Mr. Güven, by posting it online, supported ‘terrorism’ is ridiculous. Given the ongoing pressure on Cumhuriyet by Turkey’s government – and the fact that more than 150 other journalists and media workers across Turkey are currently behind bars, most on similar allegations of support for terrorism that rely on their news coverage and commentary as evidence – these charges cannot be taken at face value.”
Ten members of Cumhuriyet’s advisory board – including Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and columnist Kadri Gürsel, who is a member of IPI’s Executive Board – and prominent investigative journalist Ahmet Şik are currently behind bars and face lengthy prison terms.
Prosecutors say the paper, in a bid to topple the government, conspired to “defend and protect” the Gülen movement and outlawed Kurdish militant groups. They also claim that it engaged in a “perception operation” seeking to damage the government by linking it to terrorism, a claim presumably related to the paper’s 2015 publication of a video showing evidence that Turkey’s intelligence agency was secretly sending weapons to rebel groups in Syria.
International observers have roundly rejected the case against the newspaper as being politically motivated.
Ellis urged authorities to “provide clear and compelling evidence tying Mr. Güven to the commission or incitement of violence – i.e., an actual crime – or release him immediately”. He also renewed IPI’s call for Turkey’s government to free the other Cumhuriyet journalists and executives, as well as every one of the scores of other journalists it is holding due to their work.
More information on individual journalists imprisoned in Turkey is available at FreeTurkeyJournalists.com.