Turkish Media in Uproar Over Journalists’ Detention


ISTANBUL (Agence France Presse) — Turkish journalists took to the streets Friday after the detention of more colleagues in a controversial coup probe, raising the issue of press freedom in the EU-aspirant country. Hundreds marched in central Istanbul as activists, intellectuals and popular artists joined the members of the press, venting their anger at the ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“Free the journalists!” and “AKP, take your hand off the press,” their banners read as some chanted “Down with the AKP dictatorship.”

Backed by opposition lawmakers, scores of journalists marched also in the capital Ankara, some wearing black bands over their mouths, as passers-by showed their support by applauding.

“Who is next?” and “No to journalists in prison,” some banners read.

Raiding homes early on Thursday, police detained 10 people, most of them journalists, drawing condemnation from the EU and international media watchdogs.

It was the latest episode in a long-running probe into Ergenekon, a purported secularist network that allegedly plotted assassinations and bombings to destabilize the AKP and prompt a military coup.

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Critics charge the investigation, afoot since 2007, has degenerated into a campaign to bully critical media and the opposition.

“Give us an explanation,” the liberal Radikal daily called from its front page Friday, and the anti- government Cumhuriyet headlined: “Enough is enough.”

Even Taraf newspaper, which has strongly backed the probe, raised doubts over the intent of investigators.

“If a credible explanation is not offered, the AKP government will face the darkest period in its political existence. They had better realize the situation is so serious that it cannot be passed over with shallow talk,” chief editor Ahmet Altan wrote.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected any responsibility Thursday, voicing hope the judiciary would “complete the process speedily.”

Among those detained was Nedim Sener, a prominent journalist who last year received the International Press Institute’s “World Press Freedom Hero” award for a book that put blame on the security forces for the 2007 murder of journalist Hrant Dink.

Newspapers expressed shock also over the detention of Ahmet Sik, credited with being among the first to report that some generals had plotted to oust the AKP, months before the Ergenekon probe had even began.

All detained journalists are known critics either of the investigation or the police, as were three colleagues from an opposition website who were arrested last month.

Other newsmen are among dozens of suspects already in jail pending trial over Ergenekon, which, prosecutors argue, is a terrorist group with a media wing to sway public opinion.

The probe, which has resulted in the discovery of several weapons caches, was initially hailed as a success in a country where the army has unseated four governments since 1960.

But its credibility waned as police began arresting intellectuals known as AKP opponents and some suspects accused police of fabricating evidence.

The AKP has carried out a series of democratic reforms to boost Turkey’s EU bid, but has come under mounting fire recently for growing authoritarian.

Erdogan often attacks the critical press and Turkey’s largest media group, Dogan, is struggling under a giant tax fine, slapped on it in 2009 after a row with the government over corruption allegations involving AKP members.

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