Warrants, arrests for Cumhuriyet’s editor and board

Turkey’s most consistent opposition newspaper appears to be on the verge of being seized

When the once-pro-then-anti-government Zaman was seized by administrators in March 2016, the popular refrain among English-speaking journalists was that it was Turkey’s main opposition newspaper.

It wasn’t. Cumhuriyet is.

Sure, the title that was until recently edited by veteran journalist Can Dündar never got even close to printing the million-plus copies once claimed to be circulated by Zaman.

But Cumhuriyet’s anti-government tone outlasts even the existence of Turkey’s governing AK Party. The newspaper has long been considered a secularist bastion, employing some of Turkey’s most controversial journalists. It was repeatedly shut down in the decade that followed the 1980 military coup.

It can trace its history to 1924 and named itself after the system of government that had been founded in Turkey the year before: the republic.

Today the newspaper is one of the country’s few remaining opposition titles. It created waves – and provoked President Erdoğan’s ire – under Mr Dündar’s leadership in 2013 when it sensationally exposed the story of lorries full of weapons being sent from Turkey into Syria.

Mr Erdoğan later said in a notorious television interview that he would not let that revelation lie. Mr Dündar spent many months in prison; he is now in self-imposed exile in Europe.

His successor Murat Sabuncu is among a host of Cumhuriyet people who are in police custody this morning following an operation that state media says was launched on suspicion of aiding both the Kurdish militant group PKK and FETÖ, the organisation Turkey accuses of orchestrating July’s coup attempt.

The move was presaged by Akın Atalay, who heads the board of the Cumhuriyet Trust, a charitable outfit not unlike the Scott Trust that owns and oversees The Guardian in the UK. He said earlier this month that there were attempts afoot to replace members of the Cumhuriyet board with figures closer to Mr Erdoğan.

Mr Atalay, like Mr Dündar, is abroad this morning. Arrest warrants have been issued for both.

As things stand at 10am on Monday morning, editorial control of Cumhuriyet remains in the paper’s own hands. But with a full day to go before its next print deadline, that could still change.

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