Cumhuriyet newspaper sacks columnist after hit piece targeting detainees

Turkish secularist daily Cumhuriyet has ended its relationship with columnist Bartu Soral after the writer ruffled feathers at the newspaper by criticising its reports on the long detentions of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş and Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala.

In November, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered the release of Demirtaş, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who has been held since October 2016 awaiting trial in Turkey. Soral criticised writers at the newspaper for what he said was too supportive a stance towards the politician, who the Turkish government accuses of serving the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Soral also took aim at Kavala, whose civil society activities Turkish officials say were used to cover illegal provocations against the government. The columnist implied that the detention of Kavala for over a year without being formally charged was an administrative mistake, and launched into a series of criticisms of the philanthropist’s activities.

Kavala responded in a letter from jail refuting several of the claims Soral had made in his column.

Several writers and staff at Cumhuriyet responded in dismay to the column, which as well as being inaccurate was thought to indicate a new editorial policy that many at the newspaper would find hard to swallow.

One of the first to react was Aykut Küçükkaya, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, who said the newspaper was determined to maintain its ethical standards.

For Alev Çoşkun, the head of the foundation that controls Cumhuriyet, Soral’s work appears to have fallen below those standards. The columnist announced in a tweet on Monday that he had held a meeting with Çoşkun, and that his articles would no longer be published by the newspaper.

 

Cumhuriyet’s editorial staff has been largely replaced since a new executive board was elected in September. The new board has expressed a desire to move from a liberal to a more nationalistic editorial line.  

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