Turkish police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse a crowd in a raid on the headquarters of the best-selling Turkish newspaper Zaman in Istanbul, after a court verdict to place it under state control.
Thousands of Zaman supporters gathered in front of its building to protest the verdict, which was decreed upon the request of the prosecution.
The newspaper is claimed to be affiliated with the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who was formerly an ally of the current Turkish president Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan, before he was accused of “a conspiracy to overthrew the government” in 2013.
An Istanbul court decided to appoint trustees for the newspaper early Friday.
According to Turkish official agency Anadolu, the newspaper is accused of supporting the “Gulenist terror organisation”, headed by Gulen. Police fired tear gas at chanting supporters waiting outside the building showing their solidarity.
Zaman journalist Zeyneb Karataş spoke to Daily News Egypt from the building during its besiegement by the Turkish police.
“We don’t know anything yet. They will change the editorial line and start firing people who don’t oblige, at least that is what I expect…. Everything is up in the air now,” Karataş said.
Protesters cheered for Zaman Editor-in-Chief Abdulhamit Bilici as he was escorted from the building. Turkish police are still controlling the building, according to Karataş. “They are everywhere.” He added that journalists cannot log into internet or emails and still have no idea if they will work today.
“Internet has been shut down in the building… We don’t know what is happening. We don’t know what to expect. We are just taking it one step at a time,” she said. Police checked the IDs of Zaman journalists before allowing them to enter the building on Saturday.
Human Right Watch (HRW) condemned the seizure of the newspaper, describing it as an “attempt by the government to eradicate opposition by silencing critical media”.
Leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu criticised the court decision to put Zaman under government control. “The decision to appoint trustees that was made by a group of judicial bodies to serve the expectations and the ambitions of the [Justice and Development Party] AK Party and the Presidency is a violation of law targeting media freedom,” he said.
Amnesty International said the government’s takeover of Zaman newspaper is another episode in the Turkish authorities’ ongoing crackdown on dissenting media.
“By lashing out and seeking to rein in critical voices, President Erdogan’s government is steamrolling over human rights,” Zaman Today website reported Amnesty International’s Turkey expert Andrew Gardner as saying.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accused Turkish president Erdoğan of being behind the seizure of Zaman. “The Turkish presidential office’s interference in the media has reached a new level,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “It is absolutely illegitimate and intolerable that Erdoğan has used the judicial system to take control of a great newspaper to eliminate the Gülen community’s political base.”