ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey ordered the detention of 42 journalists on Monday, broadcaster NTV reported, under a crackdown following a failed coup that has targeted more than 60,000 people and drawn fire from the European Union.
The arrests or suspensions of soldiers, police, judges and civil servants in response to the July 15-16 putsch have raised concerns among rights groups and Western countries, who fear President Tayyip Erdogan is capitalizing on it to tighten his grip on power.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker questioned Ankara’s long-standing aspiration to join the EU.
“I believe that Turkey, in its current state, is not in a position to become a member any time soon and not even over a longer period,” Juncker said on French television France 2.
Juncker also said that if Turkey reintroduces the death penalty - something the government has said it must consider, responding to calls from supporters at public rallies for the coup leaders to be executed - it would stop the EU accession process immediately.
Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2004, allowing it to open EU accession talks the following year, but the negotiations have made scant progress since then. The country plays an pivotal role in the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State and in containing the flow of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.
Erdogan reiterated his government’s stance on the possible restoration of capital punishment in an interview with German television station ARD broadcast on Monday.
“What do the (Turkish) people say today?” Erdogan asked in the interview. “They want the death penalty reintroduced. And we as the government must listen to what the people say. We can’t say ‘no, that doesn’t interest us.’”
Responding to Juncker’s comments, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Haberturk TV that Europe cannot threaten Turkey regarding the death penalty.
Erdogan has declared a state of emergency, which allows him to sign new laws without prior parliamentary approval and limit rights as he deems necessary. The government has said these steps are needed to root out supporters of the coup and will not infringe on the rights of ordinary Turks.
NTV reported that among the 42 journalists subject to arrest warrants was well-known commentator and former parliamentarian Nazli Ilicak.
Hinting at a possible concentration of more power in the presidency in the aftermath of the abortive coup, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Monday that political parties have enough common ground to pass limited constitutional changes and aim to eventually draft a whole new charter.
He spoke to reporters after a cabinet meeting chaired by Erdogan, who met with two out of three opposition party leaders earlier in the day.
“There is unity of understanding among the party leaders to carry out work on drafting a new constitution ... Small-scale constitutional changes could be done through consensus,” Yildirim said.
He also said that the gendarmerie and Coast Guard would now report to the civilian Interior Ministry and no longer the Turkish Armed Forces.
Seven soldiers from a group which attacked a hotel in the coastal town of Marmaris where Erdogan had been staying, in an apparent attempt to capture or kill him during the coup bid, were detained at a police checkpoint on Monday.
Erdogan accuses U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has many followers in Turkey, of masterminding the plot.
In his first decree since the state of emergency was declared, Erdogan ordered the closure of thousands of private schools, charities and foundations with suspected links to Gulen, who denies involvement in the coup.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, says the coup may have been orchestrated by Erdogan himself.
Turkey wants the United States to extradite the cleric, while Washington has said it will do so only if there is clear evidence. Cavusoglu said that ties with Washington will be affected if it fails to extradite Gulen and that he would hold meetings with political and judiciary officials during a coming visit to the United States.
Erdogan has accused Gulen, his former ally, of attempting to build a “parallel network” of supporters within the military, police, judiciary, civil service, education and media with the aim of toppling the state.
“They are traitors,” Erdogan told Reuters in an interview last week. He described Gulen’s network as “like a cancer” and said he would treat them like a “separatist terrorist organization” and root them out, wherever they may be.
Gulen denies the allegations.
Authorities have detained 13,000 people over the coup attempt, including 8,831 soldiers, the government says, and has promised a fair trial.
The officers accused of staging the coup will stand trial in an Ankara district laden with symbolism for Turkey’s recent history - the scene of an army show of strength before a “post-modern coup” ousted its first Islamist-led government in 1997.
Rights group Amnesty International said it had received credible evidence of detainees being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, since the coup attempt.
At least 246 people were killed and 2,000 wounded in the attempted coup.
Erdogan has extended the maximum period of detention for suspects from four days to 30, a move Amnesty said increased the risk of torture or other maltreatment of detainees.
Photographs on social media have shown some of the detainees bruised and bandaged.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Twitter that Amnesty’s allegations were false, describing them as Gulenist “slander”. “Absolutely none of those detained were subject to torture or bad treatment during or after their detention,” he said.
Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul, Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Geert De Clercq in Paris; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Michael Georgy and Tom Brown