ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Police on Tuesday detained some 40 people, including several journalists, as part of a growing investigation into a group prosecutors accuse of having links to Kurdish rebels, Turkey's state-run television said.
The private Dogan news agency said Mustafa Ozer, a photographer working for the French news agency Agence France Presse and journalists for Kurdish media organizations were among the detained. Photographs obtained by The Associated Press show Ozer smiling as he is being led by a plain-clothed police officer into a van.
Eric Baradat, editor-in-chief of Agence France Presse's photo department, confirmed that a photographer for the Paris-based agency was detained but could not provide any details, citing agency policy.
Turkish state media said the latest arrests are part of an investigation launched two years ago. Since then, hundreds of Kurdish activists, including elected mayors, have been detained on charges of membership in the Union of Kurdistan Communities, a group prosecutors accuse of being an offshoot of the PKK rebel group and of working as its political arm.
The activists say the group is an umbrella organization uniting all Kurds.
The official Anadolu agency said Tuesday's raids were directed against the "press and propaganda" leg of the Union of Kurdistan Communities.
The PKK, branded a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey since 1984. Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict since then.
State-run TRT television said police on Tuesday conducted simultaneous raids in Istanbul and six other Turkish cities, detaining 40 people. They would be questioned by anti-terrorism police in Istanbul, the station said.
The pro-Kurdish Firat news agency said at least 25 people were rounded up and that most of the detained are journalists working for Kurdish media organizations, including the Dicle news agency and the Birgun newspaper.
Journalists working from inside a tent in the city of Van, which was hit by two devastating earthquakes in October and November, were among the suspects, Dogan news agency said. It said police seized computer hard disks and other material.
Tuesday's detentions further increased concerns over press freedoms in Turkey — a predominantly Muslim democracy that seeks EU membership — where dozens of journalists have been jailed, mostly on anti-terror charges. They include journalists accused of aiding a hardline secularist network which prosecutors say plotted to bring down Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government.
The U.S. and the EU have criticized Turkey's press freedoms and there are calls for the country to revise anti-terrorism laws which have led to the arrests of the journalists as well as dozens of student protesters.
A Turkish media rights association representing dozens of journalists groups called for the release of the arrested journalists and for Parliament to change laws. The press freedom organization, Reporters without Borders, said it was "very concerned" by the latest wave of detentions.
"The Turkish police keep carrying out the same kind of operation against journalists searches that flout the right to the confidentiality of sources, mass arrests and confiscation of computers and articles as evidence," the group said. "The Kurdish issue will not be solved by attempts to suppress dissident views in the name of combating terrorism. The authorities must stop trying to criminalize journalism, including political committed journalism."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it was alarmed by the arrests.
"Although governments have an unquestioned right to fight terrorism, it should be carried out without silencing the press and curbing the public's right to be informed," said the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic.
A Kurdish political party also denounced the police clampdown, saying it was part of government efforts to silence critics.
"This operation, which targeted the Kurdish media and opposition journalists, is aimed at silencing, suppressing and neutralizing the free media," said Kurdish legislator Hasip Kaplan in a statement. "These operations are illegal and politically-motivated."
Earlier this year, police also arrested an academic and a publisher as well as lawyers acting for the PKK's imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan in connection with their investigation into the group. No trial date has been set.
Erdogan has called the Union of Kurdistan Communities an effort by the rebels to form "a parallel state" within Turkey that threatens democracy in the country.
Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield in Paris contributed.