ISTANBUL – Turkey’s prime minister on Tuesday shrugged off the European Union’s criticism on media freedoms, following the detentions of at least 13 senior staff members of an opposition newspaper.
During a televised speech to his party’s legislators, Binali Yildirim said Turkey wouldn’t be taught lessons by Europe, and the government would “protect press freedom until the end.”
Monday’s detentions of chief editor, columnists and a cartoonist at one of Turkey’s oldest newspapers, Cumhuriyet, sparked an international outcry including from the U.S. and the EU. European Parliament President Martin Schulz called the detentions on Twitter “yet another red line crossed against freedom of expression in Turkey.”
Referring to Schulz’s comments, Yildirim said Turkey wouldn’t give in to threats and argued that the issue of media freedoms was being used by the EU to try to limit Turkey’s steps in combating terror.
“Brother, we won’t take notice of your line. The nation draws the red line for us. What importance does your line have? We’ll draw a line over your line,” Yildirim said. “They keep putting press freedom in front of us whenever we take steps in combating terror.”
The Istanbul prosecutor’s office said the detentions follow an investigation into the left-leaning and secularist paper’s alleged support to the movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen – accused by the government of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt – as well as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Yildirim said there are two dimensions to the investigation: one based on a procedural complaint filed at the newspaper’s corporate body and the other “a prosecution that begun with the charge of supporting terror without being a member of terrorist organizations.”
The paper rejects the allegations and Tuesday’s edition ran the headline: “We will not surrender.” The columns of two of its detained writers were left blank.
Hundreds gathered outside the newspaper’s Istanbul headquarters Monday to protest the detentions as Turkey’s crackdown on critical media widens. Demonstrators and opposition parties said they would continue the vigil until the detained are released and are doing so Tuesday.
Since the coup attempt, authorities have arrested close to 37,000 people and more than 100,000 people have been dismissed or suspended from government jobs in a purge to eradicate Gulen’s network. At least 170 media outlets have been shuttered and 105 journalists arrested, according to the Turkish Journalists’ Association.
Turkey’s prime minister also said his government could consider proposing a measure for a “limited” reinstatement of the death penalty amid public demands that the plotters of a failed coup in July be executed.
He added, however, that the measure wouldn’t be “retroactive” and can’t apply to the coup plotters. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said he would ratify the bill on capital punishment.