Erdoğan cracks down after calling for unity - WSJ

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is stirring up a volatile political climate by continuing his crackdown on dissent, highlighted by an assault on a leading politician and the prison time faced by a group of journalists and a schoolteacher, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) took the most votes in Turkey’s March 31 local elections, but the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) claimed the two biggest prizes, Istanbul and Ankara, the capital, along with several other large cities.

After more than two weeks of contesting the Istanbul result, Erdoğan said last week that the time had come to turn the page on a prolonged period of elections and focus on repairing an economy mired in recession.

Days later, the AKP filed a second package of fraud claims with Turkey’s national election board, seeking a revote in Istanbul. Then CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was assaulted and punched during a soldier’s funeral, an incident police attributed to a group that included a member of the AKP.

On Monday, the lawyers of eight former employees of independent newspaper Cumhuriyet said at an Istanbul press conference that their clients could be taken into custody “at any minute”.

Last year, a Turkish court convicted 14 Cumhuriyet staff members of terrorism-related charges, and an appeals court upheld the convictions for eight of the defendants earlier this year.

"Turkish authorities should delay acting on the convictions of Cumhuriyet staff until the courts have ruled on all 14 defendants and their avenues of appeal have been exhausted," said the Committee to Protect Journalists’ coordinator Gulnoza Said. "The prosecution of the Cumhuriyet journalists and staff is a blot on Turkey's record and one of the most visible signs of the government's intolerance for a free press."

The 14 have been convicted in part for their alleged support of Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric accused by Turkey of orchestrating the failed 2016 coup. Musa Kart, a long-time cartoonist for Cumhuriyet who has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, said the accusations made no sense because no newspaper had alerted Erdoğan to the danger of his onetime political alliance with Gülen more than Cumhuriyet.

“This isn’t a legal case,” Kart told WSJ. “It’s a political case made up by politicians.”

The teacher, Ayşe Çelik, was sent to prison last year on charges of terrorist propaganda. “Don’t let children die. Don’t let mothers cry,” Çelik said during a call-in to the popular Beyaz Show in January 2016, as Turkish forces battled Kurdish insurgents across the country’s southeast.

She was temporarily released last May to be able to breast-feed her baby daughter. Last week, authorities reinstated her sentence and Çelik returned to prison.

Also on Monday, an AKP heavyweight, the former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, criticised Erdoğan and the ruling party.

“By engaging in abrasive polemics, the presidency has become psychologically disconnected from at least half of society,” he said on his Facebook page. “A group has emerged from within the party who wants to rule as a parallel structure.”

Davutoğlu also urged his party to abide by the rule of law. “Journalists, academics, opinion leaders, politicians who express their opinions should not face sacking, social-media lynching and insulting threats,” he said.