Turkish authorities to shut down dozens of media outlets as crackdown after failed coup continues

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 12:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 10:09pm

Turkey’s government has ordered the closure of dozens of media outlets - including news agencies, television channels, radio stations and newspapers - as part of its widespread crackdown in the wake of a failed coup attempt on July 15.

Authorities have suspended thousands of people working in the country’s judicial, education, health and financial sectors. But the move against media outlets escalated a campaign against journalists in a country that had once been hailed as a model of democracy in the region.

Nearly 90 reporters and columnists have been ordered detained this week, a decision the rights group Amnesty International called a “brazen attack on press freedom.”

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The decree from Turkey’s cabinet of ministers to close the outlets was published late Wednesday in the country’s Official Gazette. A state of emergency enacted after the coup attempt allows Turkey’s executive to issue decrees, which are then sent to parliament for approval.

Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors issued detention orders for nearly 50 journalists and media figures tied to the Zaman newspaper, which was shut down at the request of local prosecutors in March. Forty-two journalists and columnists from various media outlets were also ordered detained Monday.

Zaman, which had been Turkey’s largest daily, was believed to be tied to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president and his supporters have accused Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, of orchestrating the coup, which saw more than 200 people killed.

Turkey has said it will formally ask the United States to extradite Gulen, who has denied involvement.

A band of rogue military officers seized combat aircraft, blocked bridges and fired on unarmed protesters demonstrating against the takeover. The government survived the violent putsch attempt but has since launched a devastating purge of Turkey’s security institutions and bureaucracy.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch warned this week that the detention or suspension of thousands of bureaucrats, judges, journalists and others is “an unvarnished move for an arbitrary, mass and permanent purge of the civil service.”

On the detention of scores of journalists, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe, Gauri van Gulik, said Turkey’s government “is failing to make a distinction between criminal acts and legitimate criticism.”

“Rather than stifling press freedom and intimidating journalists into silence, it is vital that Turkish authorities allow the media to do their work,” she said, “and end this draconian clampdown on freedom of expression.”

The decree Wednesday targeted three news agencies, 16 television channels, 23 radio stations and 45 newspapers. Many of these companies are local or regional outlets.

Turkey’s government pins the coup on a shadowy network of Gulen sympathizers operating overseas and in the country, including in the media and a host of state institutions. The movement’s infiltration of the military’s officer corps is said to have given the coup plotters the critical mass needed to launch their failed bid to take over the state.

On Wednesday, Turkey also discharged more than 2,400 military personnel for “complicity in the attempted coup,” a senior Turkish official said.

The dismissed personnel included 1,200 commissioned officers from the navy, air and land forces. The Turkish armed forces said that 8,651 personnel - or 1.5 percent of the military - participated in the abortive coup and that the rebel faction used 35 planes, 37 helicopters, 74 tanks and three ships during the operation.

The government also ordered that the coast guard and the gendarmerie, the security force tasked with keeping the peace in rural areas, be removed from military control and be placed under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry, which is administered by civilian leadership. An Al Jazeera Turk report indicated that authorities will take the further drastic step Thursday of ordering the closure of all military high schools - once pillars of the Turkish state - across the country.