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Turkey Cracks Down on Journalists, Its Next Target After Crushing Coup

One journalist, who was on vacation, had his home raided in the early morning by the police. Others were called in to their bosses' offices last week and fired, with little explanation. Dozens of reporters have had their press credentials revoked.

A pro-government newspaper, meanwhile, published a list of names and photographs of journalists suspected of treachery.

The witch-hunt environment that has enveloped Turkey in the wake of a failed military coup extended to the news media on Monday, as the government issued warrants for the detention of dozens of journalists.

The step followed the dismissals of tens of thousands of workers — teachers, bankers, police officers, soldiers, bureaucrats and others — as well as the arrests of thousands accused of ties to the conspiracy.

The government said the journalists, too, were part of a vast network linked to Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania who it has alleged was the mastermind of the botched coup.

A senior Turkish official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in keeping with government protocol, said the dismissal of the journalists was not related to their professional activities, but to possible criminal conduct.

But it has been a common reflex of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government to crack down on freedom of expression during times of crisis.

Many dozens of journalists have lost their jobs during his tenure. Others have been arrested over their coverage of national security issues. Still others have been charged with insulting the president, a crime in Turkey.

Paradoxically, at Mr. Erdogan's moment of greatest crisis — as a faction of the military tried to topple his government — some of the prominent media outlets he once hounded lent him support, and the president's ability to communicate freely with the public was decisive in thwarting the coup.

Contrary to some reports that emerged while the coup unfolded overnight between July 15 and 16, social media was mostly up and running in Turkey, and allies of the government used Twitter to mobilize opposition to the coup.

But not long after the coup was put down, the government began purging the state bureaucracy of those it suspected had links to Mr. Gulen. It also began cracking down on freedom of expression, a move that has long been a hallmark of Mr. Erdogan's rule.

The announcement last week that Turkey would enter a state of emergency for three months has deepened fears among the country's beleaguered journalists.

The emergency statutes give the government a freer hand to make laws by allowing it to bypass Parliament and to stifle expression it deems harmful to national security.

Among the journalists on the list to be detained on Monday was Nazli Ilicak, a prominent television commentator who was fired several years ago from Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, after criticizing the government during a corruption scandal.

Others had worked for media outlets affiliated with Mr. Gulen, raising worries among human rights activists that the government was targeting anyone with a link to Mr. Gulen's business and media networks.

Huseyin Aydin, a reporter who had previously worked for Cihan News Agency, a Gulen-linked news service that was seized by the government, said his home was raided early Monday while he was on vacation.

"I do not know the reason," he wrote on Twitter.

At least 30 journalists have had their media credentials canceled in recent days. According to the Directorate General of Press and Information, the credentials were revoked "for the sake of national security."

The government has also extended its purge to the state broadcaster, TRT, which was briefly taken over by soldiers on the night of the coup. It was on TRT that a host, early in the night, read a communiqué from the military declaring that it had seized power.

Now the government suspects that many working for TRT have ties to Mr. Gulen.

Mehmet Demir, a reporter at TRT who has worked for the organization since 1998, received a call last week from human resources asking him to pick up a note that accused him of having ties to the "Gulenist Terror Organization," as the government calls Mr. Gulen's followers.

"I'm shocked because I've been a victim of Gulenists, who were at one point dominating the TRT administration," he said in a telephone interview. "They started disciplinary investigations against me. I was penalized, sued them and won lawsuits against these penalties."

As the government has detained journalists, it has also begun censoring the internet, blocking access to more than 20 websites, including the news sites Gazetport, Haberdar and Medyascope.

The Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council canceled broadcasting licenses for 24 television and radio stations suspected of ties to Mr. Gulen.

The Turkish government has not spared foreign journalists in its attacks, verbal or otherwise, on the media.

Officials have singled out news outlets such as the BBC and The New York Times for what they called "pro-coup coverage," saying the outlets' focus has been more on Mr. Erdogan's sweeping purge than on the assault on Turkey's democracy from the coup itself.

Many Turks, often inclined to believe in conspiracy theories, think that the coup was a hoax staged by the government to provide a pretext to crack down on its perceived enemies. Some government officials have also spoken out against the Western media for reporting on the views of ordinary Turks who said it all could have been a hoax.

"Major Western media outlets are giving space to analysts and commentators that support conspiracy theories suggesting the coup was a hoax," Ibrahim Kalin, Mr. Erdogan's spokesman, told reporters in Istanbul last week.

"The claim that this was a fake coup is no more credible than the laughable claims that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the United States," he said.

[Source: By Ceylan Yeginsu and Tim Arango, International New York Times, Istanbul, 25Jul16]

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