Fears grow after government takeover of Turkish daily

An atmosphere of censorship and apprehension over government control of a large section of Turkey’s media pervades the country after the seizure of Zaman, the biggest-selling Turkish daily newspaper, by court-appointed authorities.

Zaman cover

The March 5 cover of Today’s Zaman, the English-language edition of Zaman.

The newspaper had been opposed to the policies of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but the editorial tone of the paper changed dramatically after trustees appointed by the court assumed control of the paper.

The authority of the trustees was enforced by a police raid on the paper at the weekend, which resulted in the detention of several journalists, including the editor, Abdulhamit Bilici, who was subsequently dismissed.

The last edition of Zaman before the police raid but after the takeover featured a defiant front page declaring a “shameful day for free press in Turkey”.

A day later, the front page bore a photo of Mr Erdogan and a story about how he was to lay the final stone on a controversial bridge project in Istanbul, under the headline, “Excitement builds for historic bridge”.

The Times of London reports that the edition was produced by the staff of Sabah, a pro-government newspaper.

Police used tear gas and water cannon during the raid and put up barricades to the prevent protestors gathering outside the newspaper’s offices.

 Zaman is the third paper to be to be brought under control by the government in six months. Similar proceedings were issued against two other papers in October. Like Zaman, the newspapers were accused of praising and helping what they called a “terrorist organisation” – supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, an influential political opponent of Mr Erdogan .

Mr Gulen is in exile in the United States.

Robert Pearson, a former US ambassador to Turkey, told Al Jazeera the move to take over the newspaper was not unexpected.

“Mr Erdogan refers to almost anyone who opposes his rule as a terrorist – college professors, journalists – anyone who basically disagrees with him,” Mr Pearson said.

John Kirby, a US State Department spokesman, called the Turkish government’s action “troubling”.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also said it was alarmed by the government action against the newspaper.

CPJ executive director Joel Simon said the move by the court paved the way to effectively strangle the remnants of critical journalism in Turkey.

Zaman’s website was offline after the police raid, with a message that read: “We will provide you, our readers, with a better quality and more objective service as soon as possible”.

The website of the English-language Today’s Zaman, which was also taken over, featured stories about the court-ordered takeover and the European Union’s critical response, but had not been updated since Saturday.

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