Turkey Cracks Down on Media Following Failed Coup

Turkey Coup - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Turkey Coup - Getty - H 2016

The government canceled or blocked dozens of news portals, TV and radio stations, accusing them of links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government says plotted the coup.

Turkey is engaging in a widespread media crackdown in the wake last week's failed military coup.

Multiple sources, including the European Federation of Journalists and Amnesty International, report that Ankara has canceled the broadcast licenses of 24 TV channels and radio stations and blocked access to 20 news portals in Turkey this week. The government has also rounded up, fired or suspended from their jobs more than 50,000 people it accuses of being connected to the coup. They include thousands of teachers, judges, university staff and members of the military

The government says the targeted organizations and individuals are allied to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric the Turkish government accuses of being the mastermind behind the attempted coup. In a phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressed the U.S. to extradite Gulen to Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the preacher, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, is the head of a “terrorist organization.” Speaking to the Turkish parliament, he promised to to “pull them (Gulen supporters) out by the roots like a razor blade.”

Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup, calling the accusations “ridiculous.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said a decision on whether or not to have him be extradited would be made under a treaty between the two countries.

While Turkey's media crackdown has focused on outlets Ankara suspects of links to Gulen and his organization, others have been caught up in the security net. Some 370 staff members of state broadcaster TRT have been suspended, according to media reports, and authorities blocked the publication of a so-called “coup special” by satirical magazine LeMan. LeMan reported on Twitter that police stopped publication of the issue at the printer.

The magazine's cover featured a cartoon in which two players were pushing figures onto a gameboard. “I'll place my soldiers” says one. “Ok, then I'll place 50 percent of the population” says the other.

The government also blocked access in Turkey to WikiLeaks' website after the organization posted some 300,000 emails from Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Tuesday evening. WikiLeaks said the it moved up the data dump in respnse to Turkey's media crackdown.

“We are witnessing a crackdown of exceptional proportions in Turkey at the moment,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher. “Turkey’s people are still reeling from the shocking events of the weekend, and it is vital that press freedom and the unhindered circulation of information are protected, rather than stifled.”

Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey's leading opposition newspapers, went further. In an interview with Germany's Huffington Post, he accused Erdogan's government of using the coup to lash out at enemies and warned of a witch hunt against critical reporters. “The time for Erdogan's personal coup has arrived,” he said.

Philippe Leruth, president of the International Federation of Journalists, called the Turkish government crackdown “blatant violations of press freedom and human rights...The situation is escalating towards more arrests and more censorship. The international community cannot stay silent and take no concrete measure while any form of criticism on the ground is being muzzled, thus heavily threatening democratic values in Turkey.”

In a separate move, President Erdogan has said he is willing to reinstate the death penalty following the coup attempt. Turkey outlawed the death penalty in 2004 as part of Turkey's bid to join the European Union. Several European officials have said if Turkey brings it back, it would mean the end of Turkey's attempts to join the EU.

The escalating purges in Turkey have also hit financial markets. The Turkish Lira has fallen sharply to around three liras to the U.S. dollar. The Turkish central bank has cut interest rates and Moody's has said it was reviewing Turkey for a possible rate downgrade.