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Turkey's Crackdown On Suspected Opponents Continues 2 Years After Attempted Coup


Two years after a military uprising attempted to topple the Erdogan government in Turkey, the president has a tighter grip on power than ever. The state of emergency imposed after the attempted coup expired on Thursday. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, the government's crackdown on suspected opponents continues.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Earlier this week, President Erdogan stood on a bridge crossing the Bosphorus Strait and reminded a large crowd of the civilians who had confronted tanks on that bridge two years earlier. Heard here through an interpreter, Erdogan called it a lesson Turkey would never forget.


PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) July 15 showed us, once again, who are the friends of Turkey, even at difficult times. We as a nation have a very strong memory.

KENYON: That memory also extends to those considered enemies. A massive crackdown carried out under a state of emergency has seen more than 130,000 people sacked from their jobs in the military, police, civil service and academia. Tens of thousands more face charges. The state of emergency has ended. But those charged with crimes for what they say is no more than criticizing the government's policies say the crackdown is far from over.

AKIN ATALAY: (Through interpreter) So the state of emergency may be ending, but the mentality will continue.

KENYON: Akin Atalay is chief executive of Cumhuriyet, a newspaper that's been around nearly as long as the Turkish Republic. While more than 170 media outlets have been closed since the coup attempt, Cumhuriyet's secular, nationalist editorial line continues to be published - but not without a struggle. Atalay and more than a dozen other people at the paper - journalists, editors, cartoonists, lawyers - were convicted on terrorism-related charges. They continue working while they press their appeals. Even considering Turkey's history of military coups and repression, Atalay says, what's happening now is unprecedented.

ATALAY: (Through interpreter) It's the most anti-democratic I've seen it. Critics are thrown in jail. All dissent is under oppression all the time. There are thoughts they allow you to think and other thoughts you are not allowed to think. And if you dare to think it and voice it, you're going to be punished.

KENYON: Erdogan won re-election last month, and he's stronger than ever. The presidency has sweeping new powers with few checks and balances. Parliament is cooperative, and the judiciary, Atalay says, has been crushed. When the sentences were handed down against the Cumhuriyet journalists, Human Rights Watch said the courts were acting as, quote, "willing handmaidens for state repression." The only apparent restraint on presidential power appears to be the fear of economic fallout. One of Erdogan's former deputies, Mehmet Simsek, appeared to acknowledge as much when he told a TV interviewer that the state of emergency was being lifted, in part, to shore up the plunging Turkish lira.


MEHMET SIMSEK: (Through interpreter) The negative public perception of the state of emergency and global market volatility are the reasons for the Turkish lira's record plunge against the dollar. Therefore, lifting the state of emergency would normalize Turkey again.

KENYON: But even as the state of emergency ends, the government is putting some of those same powers into law. Meanwhile, Turkey's military, traditionally a check on presidential authority, has lost some 10,000 members to the purge, including many of its generals, and appears comfortably under Erdogan's control. The media is now also primarily pro-government. Atalay says Cumhuriyet is proud to be an exception to that rule. And he tells Turkish journalists to remember that the worse things get, the more important the work they're doing becomes.

ATALAY: (Through interpreter) Apart from all the dangers, I tell young journalists they should live the joy of the fight to bring justice back to Turkey in these very difficult times, the worst conditions, I would say, in the history of the Republic, but even on the hardest days, to understand the value of their work.

KENYON: Atalay and his colleagues carry on, knowing that prison may await. They're waiting to find out when their appeal will be heard. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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