Turkey’s steady slide into authoritarian rule is proceeding apace.
On Friday, a court gave the government legal control of the country’s largest newspaper, Zaman. Police quickly descended on the newspaper’s offices in Istanbul, unleashing water cannons and tear gas against protesters gathered outside in an attempt to stop the takeover.
The move was broadly criticized by European governments.
No explanation was offered for the court’s decision, but Zaman and a number of other dissident media orgs are linked to the Hizmet movement, led by an erstwhile ally of Erdogan, Fethullah Gulen. Gulen since split with the president’s APK party and publicly criticized him, causing Erdogan to accuse him and his followers of involvement in criminal conspiracies against the government and support for the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK.
Gulen lives in the Pennsylvania, and the U.S. government has refused to extradite him to Turkey.
The newspaper’s last free edition, published on Saturday, featured an all-black front page with the headline “Constitution Suspended,” referring to the government’s recent moves to stifle free speech.
The first edition published under government control, on Sunday, carried a pro-regime headline about the success of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's public works program. The newspaper’s suspended English language editor, Sevgi Akarcesme, noted in a tweet, “In less than 48 hours, the new admin turned seized Zaman into a propaganda piece of the regime in Turkey.”
Suspended journalists from Zaman published their own alternative newspaper, Yarina Bakis (“Look Toward Tomorrow”), which carried news about the takeover and ensuing protests and police crackdown.
This is just the latest in a series of moves by the Turkish government to stifle Turkish news media.
Last fall, Turkish police raided the offices of a major Turkish conglomerate with media properties, Koza pek Holding, including the newspaper Sözcü, whose columnists all submitted empty op-eds to protest the raid in the newspaper’s print edition.
Turkish security forces have also arrested a number of foreign journalists who were covering anti-government protests on trumped-up charges of abetting terrorism. While the foreign journalists have been released, some of their local handlers remain in custody.