NEW YORK—The rapid purge of journalists, academics, and university leaders in Turkey following a failed coup attempt undermines crucial pillars of the very democracy that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan professes to defend, PEN America said in a statement today.

In the days after a faction of the Turkish military failed to regain state power in a brutal coup attempt in the early hours of July 16, tens of thousands of teachers and every university dean in the country—more than 1,500—were forced to resign on suspicion of ties to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former Erdogan ally now living in self-imposed exile in the United States who officials allege orchestrated the attempted takeover. The Turkish Board of Education also issued an international travel ban on all academics while it awaits additional lists of “traitorous personnel” from the universities in the country. The purge is the second of its kind this year, compounding the dismissal or suspension of some 60 academics in January for signing a petition condemning violence against ethnic Kurds in southeast Turkey.

Under the guise of “national security concerns,” the crackdown expanded this week to include the press. Arrest warrants were issued Monday for at least 42 journalists, alongside scores of soldiers, police, and civil servants already detained. Another 30 or more had their press credentials revoked. Turkish officials have publicly attacked international news outlets with accusations of “pro-coup coverage” while domestic media workers face sudden firings, office raids, and personal retaliation. According to the New York Times, a pro-government newspaper released a list of journalists “suspected of treachery,” complete with identifying photographs.

“President Erdogan’s years-long offensive against free expression has now come to a head, making a sinister farce of his claims to defending democracy as he meticulously dismantles its most crucial underlying principles,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “Erdogan must immediately and without condition release all those jailed only for expressing dissent, restore the independent media, lift restrictions on academics, and end the practice of withholding free expression as a tool of political control.”

This week’s move accelerates a longstanding campaign against critical media, suspected associates of Gülen, and other political dissenters. For years, journalists in Turkey—where insulting the president is a crime—have been unceremoniously fired under government pressure for criticizing Erdogan. In January this year, two Cumhuriyet journalists were arrested and ultimately convicted on charges of “espionage” for reporting on Turkish weapons shipments to Syrian rebels. In March, Erdogan’s government seized the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper, Zaman, affiliated with Gülen. And just last month, three prominent intellectuals—including a Turkish representative of Reporters Without Borders—were arrested for their participation in a one-day guest editorship of Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem.

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