Turkish police fire tear gas to raid top newspaper
Police dispersed protesters who had gathered outside of the opposition Zaman newspaper’s Istanbul headquarters
Turkish riot police on Saturday fired plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who gathered outside an opposition newspaper the day after it was seized by authorities in a violent raid.
“Free press cannot be silenced,” the protesters shouted.
Police used large amounts of tear gas, water cannon and plastic bullets to disperse the crowd of around 500 protesters outside the Istanbul premises of Zaman daily, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.
Zaman, closely linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arch-foe the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen, was ordered into administration by the court on the request of Istanbul prosecutors.
Police also fired the tear gas and water cannon late Friday to move away a hundreds-strong crowd that had formed outside the newspaper offices, following the court order placing the media business under administration.
On Saturday, a crowd of protesters gathered outside the building, holding the latest edition of the newspaper in a show of solidarity while the newspaper’s employees entered the building under police scrutiny.
The court order was aroused the concern of the United States and the European Union ahead of a crucial summit in Brussels between the EU and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday.
The move, which also affects Zaman’s sister newspaper, English-language Today’s Zaman, and a news agency linked to the group, further reduces the pool of opposition television and newspapers in the country, which is dominated by pro-government television channels and newspapers.
Zaman Editor-in-Chief Abdulhamit Bilici addressed his colleagues on the grounds of the newspaper before police had stormed the building. He called the court decision a “black day for democracy” in Turkey as journalists and other newspaper workers held up signs that read: “Don’t touch my newspaper” and chanted “free press cannot be silenced!”
The court decision sparked international outrage.
“I see this as an extremely serious interference with media freedom which should have no place in a democratic society,” said Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. “It is the latest in a string of unacceptable and undue restrictions of media freedom in Turkey.”
Reporters without Borders issued a strongly-worded statement, accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of “moving from authoritarianism to all-out despotism.”
Gulen, who has lived in the United States since 1999, was once Erdogan’s ally but the two have fallen out.
The government accuses the Gulen movement of orchestrating corruption allegations in December 2013 against ministers and people close to Erdogan as a plot to overthrow it. Authorities have since branded the movement a terror organization, although it is not known to have carried out acts of violence.
In reaction, the European Union on Saturday urged Turkey to respect media freedom.
“The EU has repeatedly stressed that Turkey, as (an EU) candidate country, needs to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media,” the EU’s diplomatic service said in a statement.