Turkish Police Takeover Largest Opposition Newspaper
Sun, March 6, 2016
Turkish police break down the entrance to the largest Turkish opposition newspaper Zaman. Inset: A photographer inside is ousted by special forces. (Photos: Video screenshots)
Turkish special forces stormed the largest opposition newspaper in Turkey Friday night, forcibly taking over the paper. Outside, riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons into the crowds of thousands protesting the takeover (see video below).
The front page of the Zaman’s last edition, printed entirely in black and published before the takeover, read “Shameful day for free press in Turkey.”
Abdulhamit Bilici, the paper’s editor-in-chief, who was fired and dragged out of the building, said, "It is a dark day for Turkish democracy and a flagrant violation of the constitution."
Earlier, commenting on the fact that under President (and former prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has been labeled the biggest jail for journalists in Europe, Bilici said, "It has been a habit for the last three, four years, that anyone who is speaking against government policies is facing either court cases or prison, or such control by the government."
Bilici said the Turkish media, for the most part, had avoided covering the details of the takeover out of fear that they might be targeted next.
According to Erkan Ipekci, award-winning Turkish journalist and president of the Turkish Journalists Union, 183 journalists have been imprisoned since 2009 with 63 still remaining in jail. Journalists who have been critical of Erdogan and his Islamist government have had their phones tapped and been arrested on charges of “terrorism.”
Erdogan has linked the paper, as well as its English-language edition Today's Zaman and its news agency Cihan, to his nemesis Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Turkish preacher with enormous wealth and support. Erdogan accuses Gulen, who fled to the U.S. in 1999, of conspiring to overthrow the government by building a network of supporters in the judiciary, police and media.
In a statement, Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said the operation was "ideological and unlawful."
"Erdoğan is now moving from authoritarianism to all-out despotism," Deloire said. "Not content with throwing journalists in prison for ‘supporting terrorism’ or having them sentenced to pay heavy fines for ‘insulting the ‘head of state,’ he is now going further by taking control ofTurkey’s biggest opposition newspaper.”
Three trustees supportive of Erdogan were appointed to manage the paper. When reporters returned to work the next day, they found that their Internet connection had been cut, they were not able to access their email accounts and that attempts were being made to wipe out the paper’s entire online achive.
In the last number of years and particularly since the popular uprising at Gezi Park, Erdogan has been cracking down on press freedom and directed his majority parliament to pass laws limiting that freedom.
At the beginning of 2014, a new bill was approved to allow any Internet site to be blocked by the telecommunications authority without approval by a court. In addition, the law mandated that Internet providers must keep records of each subscriber’s online activity which must be made available to authorities upon request.
In December of 2014, Today's Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı was arrested on charges of forming and leading a terrorist organization. He was subsequently released.
Watch Turkish police brutalize protests with water cannon, rubber bullet and tear gas: