Sunday, March 6, 2016
A leading Turkish newspaper that was seized by the government over the weekend has printed its first edition under new management. It showed a marked departure from the paper's former oppositional stance.
"Zaman," a mass-circulation opposition newspaper that was taken over by the Turkish government on March 4, has reopened under heavy police guard and with the editor-in-chief removed from his post.
The top story in "Zaman" after a new management was put in place showed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attending a ceremony to mark a key phase in the construction of a third bridge across the Bosporus strait in Istanbul.
The front page also contained images of the funerals of soldiers killed in the military clashes with Kurdish rebels in the country's southeast.
One of the newspaper's journalists told the Agence France Press news agency the latest edition had not been produced by "Zaman" staff.
Ties with European Union
Police on Friday used tear gas and water cannon to force their way into the newspaper's offices, carrying out a court order to place the media outlet under administration. Tear gas was also used the next day against supporters demonstrating outside the building.
Police resorted to using tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters outside the headquarters of "Zaman"
Critics say the seizure is aimed at eradicating opposition media in Turkey, which aspires to join the EU. The takeover of the newspaper comes ahead of a critical summit between Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and EU leaders in Brussels, in which Ankara is hoping to inch toward EU membership by offering to assist Europe in dealing with its influx of migrants.
The office of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement that Turkey, as an EU candidate country, needed "to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media."
The office added that any country seeking EU membership had to guarantee fundamental rights.
Crackdown on press freedom
"Zaman" has been closely affiliated with Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government has accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Ankara accuses Gulen of running a network that it refers to as the Fethullahist Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FeTO/PDY), saying that it is seeking to oust legitimate authorities. The government has also accused Gulen's movement of collaboration with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the military has been fighting the country's southeast.
The government has denied any involvement in the paper's confiscation, with Prime Minister Davutoglu calling it merely a "legal process."
The new administration, appointed by court order, removed the newspaper's editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici. Bilici was seen leaving the building to the applause of staff. Newspaper employees were forced to enter the building the next day under tight police scrutiny. Last year, the government had conducted raids on a number of other media outlets affiliated with Gulen.
Erdogan had also made headlines earlier in the week, saying that he would neither "obey nor respect" a Constitutional Court ruling that had ordered the release of two jailed opposition journalists. "Cumhuriyet" editor-in-chief Can Dundar and his Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul had been in jail awaiting trial since November 2015 on charges of revealing state secrets over a report alleging that President Erdogan's government had tried to ship arms to Islamists in Syria. The reporters still face terrorism charges in court and cannot leave the country before trial.
Erdogan, who has led Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, insists Turkey has the freest media in the world.