[intro]Earlier this month, Turkish police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds in Istanbul who had gathered to protest against a controversial decision by government to seize the country’s most widely circulated opposition newspaper, Zaman.[/intro]
Following a controversial court order, Turkish authorities took over the largest-selling newspaper in Turkey, Zaman, in a bid to silence opposition journalists.
The action is widely seen as an attack on freedom of the press, human rights and civil society and highlights President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s growing authoritarian tendencies in a bid to silence all opposition and consolidate his power.
Police raided the headquarters of Zaman using tear gas and water cannons against protesters outside the building, just hours after a court seized control of the daily.
Officers stormed the building in Istanbul at midnight as hundreds of readers and Zaman newspaper supporters protested outside against the court’s decision. Standing in heavy rain, they chanted “free press cannot be silenced” as well as holding placards which said: “Don’t touch my newspaper.”
This is not the first time Erdoğan has sought to crush all opposition and dissent.
Last October, the government seized Turkish newspaper Bugun, and stormed TV station Kanaltürk, only to repurpose the outlets into sources of pro-government propaganda. Numerous journalists have been fired or jailed for criticizing the government or reporting on allegations of official corruption.
The government has also opened nearly 2 000 cases against Turkish citizens on allegations of “insulting the president.”
The Cumhuriyet newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief, Can Dündar, and Ankara Bureau Chief, Erdem Gül, were jailed for three months and released only after an appeal to the Constitutional Court – whose ruling Erdoğan refused to acknowledge or respect. In addition, two judges who ordered the release of Hidayet Karaca, Director of Samanyolu Media Groups, were dismissed from their duties, arrested in April 2015 and remain in prison today.
A few days following the crackdown on Zaman, and despite criticism from European officials, the Turkish government took over control of the Cihan News Agency. Cihan has been Turkey’s largest international news and the only private election reporting agency. The takeover of Cihan and many other critical media institutions have led to concern around the reporting process of the upcoming elections, which will be reported on solely by the government-controlled news agency.
Concerns over Turkey’s weakening democracy are shared by international media outlets, press advocacy groups and human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Freedom House, National Press Club, International Press Institute, The Committee to Protect Journalists and other prominent human rights organisations.