Pro-Erdoğan change in Cumhuriyet daily’s board leads to resignations

Following a shakeup in the board of directors of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, the owner of Turkey’s opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, in cooperation with the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the daily’s columnists have started to resign one by one.

Journalists Aydın Engin, Hakan Kara, Çiğdem Toker, Melis Alphan, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, Barbaros Şansal, Ahmet Tulgar and Güray Öz and renowned cartoonist Musa Kart have all handed in their resignations.

According to a report by online news outlet T24 on Sunday, the new board also sacked Murat Sabuncu, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, its managing editor Faruk Eren and editor Bülent Özdoğan.

After the takeover of Cumhuriyet, Sabuncu published an editorial bidding farewell to readers on Saturday. Veteran journalist Çiğdem Toker, the newspaper’s former Ankara representative, wrote her last column in Cumhuriyet under the title of ‘Farewell’ on Sunday.

“Neither a bond of communion nor a whim was left. I remain in allegiance to my soul: I left,” Toker wrote.

Engin, a former editor-in-chief of the newspaper, also resigned. “For me, this is the end of the road for Cumhuriyet,” he said.

Kara also announced that he had resigned. “Never give up reading the newspaper,” he said while stressing it was no longer possible for him to stay at Cumhuriyet.

Cartoonist Kart also announced he would not continue drawing for Cumhuriyet.

The changes in the board also caused eyebrows to raise outside of the country. Kati Piri, a Dutch MEP and the European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, criticised the newly elected board.

“After raids, legal proceedings, arrests & imprisonment of its journalists, last independent newspaper #Cumhuriyet has now taken over by ultra-nationalists, aligned with President #Erdogan. Is this final blow to what was left of press freedom in #Turkey?” she tweeted.

The new board includes controversial figures such as Alev Coşkun, who was alleged to have sent anonymous denunciations to President Erdoğan that were used as evidence in trials of Cumhuriyet staff.

Coşkun also played a role as a state witness against the Cumhuriyet journalists during a trial that recently concluded. Coşkun has become the new chair of the foundation.

Fifteen staff members of the newspaper, including Sabuncu, were given lengthy prison sentences in April at the Cumhuriyet trial, during which prosecutors claimed the newspaper had aided the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 6, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. (SCF with Ahval)

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