Turkish authorities were on Saturday in control of a newspaper staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after using tear gas and water cannon to seize its headquarters in a dramatic raid that raised fresh alarm over declining media freedoms.
Police fired the tear gas and water cannon just before midnight yesterday at a hundreds-strong crowd that had formed outside the headquarters of the Zaman daily in Istanbul following a court order issued earlier in the day, an AFP photographer said.
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The swoop caused immediate concern in Washington and Brussels amid the intensifying worries over the climate for freedom of expression in Turkey. EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said he was “extremely worried”. Zaman, closely linked to Erdogan’s arch-foe, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, was ordered into administration by the court on the request of Istanbul prosecutors, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
Hundreds of supporters then gathered outside its headquarters awaiting the arrival of bailiffs and security forces after the court order. “Democracy will continue and free media will not be silent,” Zaman’s editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici was quoted as saying by the Cihan news agency just before the police raid.
“I believe that free media will continue even if we have to write on the walls. I don’t think it is possible to silence media in the digital age,” he told Cihan, part of the Zaman media group. Shortly before midnight, a team of police arrived with two Turkish-made TOMA water cannon trucks used by the police and exported to several countries.
They advanced military style towards the waiting supporters, firing the freezing water directly at them. Using bolt-cutters to unlock the iron gate in front of the building, dozens of police then marched into the premises to seize the headquarters and formally place it under administration, pushing aside anyone who stood in their way, Cihan images showed.
Once the building was cleared, the court-appointed administrators — lawyers Tahsin Kaplan and Metin Ilhan and writer Sezai Sengonul — were bussed inside the complex to begin their work, Anatolia said. The Cihan news agency and the Today’s Zaman English language daily — which are also part of the Feza Publications group that owns Zaman — and are also affected by the court