Outrage over Turkish Government’s Crackdown on Newspaper

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There has been widespread condemnation against Turkish government’s crackdown on the country’s prominent newspaper Zaman, following a court order on Friday.

New York based Human Rights Watch said “the Istanbul court’s decision to appoint trustees to run Zaman newspaper and other media is nothing but a veiled move by the president to eradicate opposition media and scrutiny of government policies.”

Writers, artists and journalists around the world have also come out in protest against  the take over of the media outlets owned by Feza Media Group.

“Turkey seized one of the country’s leading newspapers, Zaman. In doing so, Turkey has confirmed that it is no longer committed to a free press, which is the bedrock of any democratic society. We ask the court to reverse its decision to seize  Zaman and urge the international community to speak out against Turkey’s repeated attempts to stifle a free and independent media,” the signatories of  a petition initiated by campaigning group, Index on Censorship urged.

In a statement,  the  White House termed the take over as “the latest in the series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government targeting media outlets.”

Backed by the court order, the government has appointed administrators  in the media group which includes Zaman daily (Turkish), Today’s Zaman daily (English) and Cihan, one of the leading news agencies of Turkey.

“This move is nothing but to silence free media. It is ridiculous to take on media for utilizing its constitutional right of writing,” Noorjan Komekov, the  New Delhi based correspondent of Cihan news agency told  Tehelka.

The media organization has been targeted for its links with Hizmet movement of influential Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.  A former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gulen now lives in Pennsylvania. Turkey says Gulen’s Hizmet movement is a terror organization “looking to overthrow President Erdogan’s government.”

As the news of the crackdown spread on Friday afternoon, thousands of  readers came out to express solidarity. Police used teargas and water canon to push through rows of protesters.  Riot police used  gas cutters to force their way in through the bolted gates of the newspaper office.  Television pictures showed police pushing photographers and editorial staff out of the building.

Sevgi Akarcesme, editor in-chief, Today’s Zaman  termed the government’s move as “the practical end of media freedom in Turkey.”

Abdulhamit Bilici, editor-in-chief of Zaman said that it has been a practice in the country for the past  few years to slap legal cases or hand over prison terms to those critical of the government.

“What is most panicking is the silence of many media organizations  in Turkey regarding the crackdown on Feza groups. No one was even ready to report the crackdown of the largest selling newspaper in the country which has a circulation of 650,000, as of end of February,” Noorjan said.

The Turkish government has been piling pressure on the Feza media group for more than two years with tax raids, cancellation of accreditations, intimidating advertisers and threatening readers.

This is not the first time that the  government has moved to seize media houses which are critical of President Erdogan. Earlier it had appointed trustees on the editorial board of Koza Ipek Group which includes the country’s popular channels like Bugun TV and Kanal Turk and Bugun newspaper.

Turkey’s apex court had on February 25, ordered the release of two senior journalists who were imprisoned for over three months. Cumhuriyet‘s editor-in-chief Can Dundar and its Ankara chief of bureau Erdem Gul, were arrested  following a report which alleged that Turkish government was secretly transferring weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria.

The duo have been slapped with espionage charges which could possibly fetch them life terms when the trial begins later this month.

“It is the sign that fear has entirely grown in the halls of state. They do not have tolerance for even the tiniest criticism. But it is impossible to silence an entire society by disregarding the law. Turkey would not keep quiet,” Dundar said in a text message to New York Times on Friday.