Turkey arrests novelist for ties to Kurdish militants: media

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court arrested prize-winning novelist Asli Erdogan on Friday over alleged links to Kurdish militants, the Haberturk newspaper reported, three days after she and two dozen more staff from the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem newspaper were detained.

A journalist of pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem gives an interview to a German TV channel at their newsroom before a protest against the arrest of three prominent campaigners for press freedom, in front of the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem newspaper in central Istanbul, Turkey, June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Ozgur Gundem was closed by court order on Tuesday on grounds of spreading propaganda of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

Turkey has closed more than 130 media outlets since a state of emergency was declared following a failed military coup on July 15, stirring concern among Western allies and rights groups about deteriorating press freedoms.

A government official has denied the action against Ozgur Gundem is linked to the state of emergency. But an international media watchdog saw it as part of a widespread purge in the wake of the putsch. [L8N1AY2DG]

Novelist Asli Erdogan, a member of the paper’s advisory board, was sent to a jail in Istanbul on preliminary charges of “membership of terrorist organization” and “undermining national unity”, the pro-government Haberturk said on its website. Other media outlets carried similar reports.

It said two editors of the paper were still in custody.

A total of 25 staff of Ozgur Gundem, which has a circulation of 7,500, were detained on Tuesday on suspicion of supporting the PKK, following the decision to close the paper.

Those detentions had brought the number of imprisoned Turkish media workers to around 100, based on figures from the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) media watchdog, making Turkey the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.

However, the pro-government Sabah newspaper said on Thursday 22 of the Ozgur Gundem staff had been released.

Ozgur Gundem focuses on the PKK conflict in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast and has faced dozens of investigations, fines and the arrest of correspondents since 2014.

The PKK has waged a three-decade insurgency for greater autonomy in the name of Turkey’s 15 million Kurds. More than 40,000 people have died in the violence.

Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Richard Balmforth