ISTANBUL (CNN) — Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for 42 journalists, state-run news agency Anadolu reported Monday, as a purge on the country’s democratic institutions following a failed military coup intensifies.
Turkey has cracked down on agencies and individuals suspected of having ties to cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for masterminding the July 15 attempted coup. Gulen, a longtime rival of Erdogan’s, lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.
An official from Erdogan’s office said prosecutors had requested the journalists’ arrest “to shed light on the coup plot.”
“Obviously this isn’t related to journalistic activities but possible criminal conduct,” the official said.
Turkish writer Nazli Ilicak was among those on the list, Anadolu reported.
The warrants were issued after authorities fired or suspended at least 50,000 people from Turkey’s institutions and security forces last week. They included judges, teachers, police and journalists.
Some journalists said officials are intimidating them following the coup.
Crackdown on satirical magazine
Turkish satirical magazine LeMan, often compared to France’s Charlie Hebdo, said the government had prevented it — via a court order — from publishing its edition following the coup, adding it was also facing other threats.
The issue of LeMan that was banned from publication featured a cartoon on the cover of Turkish soldiers facing off against anti-coup protesters, pushed toward each other by giant hands.
The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Zafer Aknar, defended the cartoon on the banned issue.
“The cover says this isn’t a battleground for Erdogan or Fethullah Gulen — this is our country,” Aknar said.
When the cover was tweeted ahead of publication, protesters gathered at the magazine’s offices, saying, “Don’t you know what happened to Charlie Hebdo?” — apparently a reference to the 2015 gun attacks in Paris that killed 12 people.
“We should always take political Islamist threats seriously, because they do as they say,” Aknar said. “If not today, tomorrow. When there’s an opportunity.”
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has slammed the Turkish government’s treatment of journalists following the political upheaval.
Johann Bihr, the head of the organization’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said that democracy “cannot be protected by trampling on fundamental freedoms.”
“The wholesale and arbitrary nature of the attacks on the Turkish media in the past week seems to reflect a desire to exact revenge and bring them into line. It is time the authorities put a stop to this,” Bihr said in a statement.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 151st out of 180 countries for press freedom.
Unity against the coup
In a rare show of unity, Turkey’s main opposition party, the secular Republican People’s Party, held a rally Sunday in Istanbul’s Taksim Square with Erdogan supporters.
At the demonstration, dubbed the “Republic and Democracy Rally,” opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu told the thousands-strong crowd that the country’s reaction was a powerful rejection of anti-democratic forces.
“We are all together in Taksim today. Today is a day we made history all together,” Kilicdaroglu told the flag-waving crowd.
“The Turkish parliament was hit by a bomb, however, the parliament did its duty and repelled the coup attempt.”
One demonstrator held a flag with Turkey’s secular founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, superimposed on Turkey’s red, crescent moon banner. He “put in place the fundamentals for this democracy to work in the best way,” she said.
“We’re talking about the coup, not about secularity,” another told CNN’s Nic Robertson. “It’s our business. We can decide it. We can vote for the people who (are) trying to be more autocratic. But now, if there will be a coup, we can’t change it.”
The party opposed the coup attempt and supported Erdogan but voted against his state of emergency declaration last week, which would give the government sweeping powers.
The secularists have said their denouncement of the coup does not mean they agree with the government measures enacted afterward.
The rally marked a show of solidarity for a country that has struggled to stand together in the aftermath of terrorist attacks this year.
Elite troops included in purge
Alongside the more than 9,000 soldiers who were arrested in the coup’s aftermath, Turkey is disbanding its elite presidential guard unit, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told Anadolu. Since the arrests, 1,200 troops have been released, the government said.
Some of the soldiers who seized state broadcaster TRT during the coup attempt came from the presidential guard unit, Yildirim said.
“We decided that there won’t be a guards unit in this compound anymore,” he said.
The roundup of suspected coup plotters is not the only government response to the uprising.
Under a new presidential decree following the attempted coup, suspects can be detained for as long as 30 days without charge, and the government can listen in on all conversations they have with their attorneys.
A three-month state of emergency declaration issued Thursday grants Erdogan new sweeping powers to implement the detention measures.
Turkey has shut down more than 2,000 institutions linked to Gulen.