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Turkey post-coup purge hits journalists, academics

Leman director Zafer Aknar reads the edition whose cover led to seizure by police.
Leman director Zafer Aknar reads the edition whose cover led to seizure by police. Tony Cross/RFI

Turkish prosecutors on Monday issued orders to detain 42 journalists and 31 academics as part of the crackdown following the 15 July coup attempt. The move is part of a purge of alleged supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, accused of plotting to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government.


TGS journalists' union president Ugur Güc
TGS journalists' union president Ugur Güc

As news of the detention orders broke, journalists’ union president Ugur Güc prepared to defend any who might need his help.

The union has already acted for reporters on pro-Gülen papers like Zaman, which the government took over, firing some of the staff and changing the editorial line.

“We will defend anybody who is a media worker.  We have many members who previously worked for Zaman newspaper and other newspapers and now are unemployed. For sure we will defend them! What they were doing was journalism. We are not interested in their connections."

"But," he added. "if the courts find they supported the coup, then it will be difficult for us to defend them.” 

Recently the union has had to defend Kurdish journalists in the south-east, where the military has fighting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party armed group for many years.

“But now things are going in a different direction," Güc says. "There’s a witch-hunt in state institutions, it’s not limited to the Gülen group but other government critics are now threatened.”

The chief editor of Nokta magazine, Cevheri Güven, is on the list, having already been detained along with a colleague for two months last year because of a cover lampooning Erdogan.

Half a dozen Nokta journalists have resigned for fear of being caught up in the purge, preferring unemployment to the danger of imprisonment.

One of them, who asked not to be named, spoke to RFI.

Although his boss admitted sympathy for the Gülen movement, he says, Nokta did not push its line.

“We are, like all other media, against the coup, we are critical of it. But a witch-hunt has started against employees of our magazine, as if we had taken part in the coup plot.”

Nokta has had to go 100 percent digital because printing houses refuse to handle it now.

Nobody accuses the satirical paper Leman of being pro-Gülen.

But its reaction to the coup was to print a front page showing soldiers directed by a hand to confront demonstrators directed by another hand.

“Hundreds of people died because of struggle for power between two groups,” is how Leman’s director Zafer Aknar explanation of the drawing.

“We prepared the magazine and sent it to the printers, then shared the front page on Facebook and Twitter as we have been doing every week," Aknar recalls. "After this post, so-called journalists from pro-government media launched a campaign against us and then AKP trolls joined in. They shared the location of our office on internet and called on people to go to the office.”

A mob turned up outside Leman’s offices, too late to catch its staff, who had gone home.

They were met by police, who assured them they had the matter in hand.

They went to the printers and prevented the paper’s distribution, even before obtaining a court order, later collecting those that had gone out to kiosks.

Leman is known as Charlie Hebdo’s Turkish sister paper and the trolls were quick to remind its journalists of last year’s murderous attack on the French satirical paper, Aknar says.

“During the lynching campaign, the messages were like ‘Didn’t you learn your lesson from Charlie Hebdo?’ ‘Probably Isis was right,’ ‘If you haven’t learnt your lesson, we will teach you,’ ‘Sons of bitches, we will come, raid and burn,’ ‘Are you still alive?’ Thousands of messages like this.”

The trolls, who have also attacked reporters on the prosecutors' list, do the government's work while allowing it deniability, Aknar claims.

No Leman journalist was on Monday’s detention list.

“It’s not our turn … yet,” Aknar comments.


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