ANKARA: Turkey was on Saturday holding 17 journalists on charges of “terror group” membership as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Western critics to “mind your own business” over a relentless crackdown following a failed coup.
But in a goodwill gesture two weeks after the July 15 coup bid, Erdogan also announced he was withdrawing thousands of lawsuits against individuals accused of insulting him.
Turkey has detained more than 18,000 people over the attempted putsch which has been blamed on the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen — a charge he denies — with the crackdown sparking warnings from Brussels that Ankara’s EU membership bid may be in danger.
Seventeen journalists remanded in custody by an Istanbul court over links to Gulen woke up in jails across the city on Saturday as international concern grows over the targeting of reporters in the wake of the thwarted putsch.
Twenty-one journalists had appeared before a judge in hearings lasting until midnight on Friday. Four were then freed but the rest were placed under pre-trial arrest, charged with “membership of a terror group”, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
Those held include the veteran journalist Nazli Ilicak as well as the former correspondent for the pro-Gulen Zaman daily Hanim Busra Erdal.
Among those freed was prominent commentator Bulent Mumay who was given a rapturous welcome by supporters.
“I could never have imagined being accused of such a thing. It was madness. It’s not right to arrest journalists — this country should not make the same mistakes again,” he said, quoted by the Dogan news agency.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu defended the detention of reporters, saying it was necessary to distinguish between coup plotters and those “who are engaged in real journalism”.
Erdogan also announced that as a gesture of goodwill after the coup he was dropping hundreds of lawsuits against individuals accused of “disrespectful” insults against him.
Earlier this year, officials had said more than 2,000 people were being prosecuted on charges of insulting the president, from a provincial schoolboy to a former Miss. – AFP