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US calls decision by Turkey to seize newspaper ‘troubling’

Analysts say The move means the court will appoint new managers to run the newspaper, who will be expected to transform its editorial line

Published: Updated:

The U.S. State Department on Friday called the decision by Turkish authorities to seize control of the country’s largest newspaper “troubling.”

“We see this as the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government targeting media outlets and others critical of it,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told a news briefing.

Turkish authorities seized control of the Zaman newspaper on Friday at the request of an Istanbul prosecutor, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, in a widening crackdown against supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, an influential foe of President Tayyip Erdogan.

An Istanbul court ordered into administration a Turkish daily newspaper that is sharply critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, amid growing alarm over freedom of expression in the country.

The Zaman newspaper, 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.

There was no immediate official explanation for the court’s decision.

The move means the court will appoint new managers to run the newspaper, who will be expected to transform its editorial line, analysts say.

Dozens of supporters were waiting outside the paper’s headquarters in Istanbul awaiting the arrival of bailiffs and security forces after the court order.

“We will fight for a free press,” said a placard held by one protestor, according to live images broadcast on the pro-Gulen Samanyolu TV.

Gulen has been based in the United States since 1999 when he fled charges against him laid by the former secular authorities.

Turkey has asked the United States to extradite him but Washington has shown little appetite for doing so.

Despite living outside of Turkey, Gulen built up huge influence in the country through allies in the police and judiciary, media and financial interests and a vast network of cramming school.

Ankara now accuses Gulen of running what it calls the Fethullahaci Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FeTO/PDY) and seeking to overthrow the legitimate Turkish authorities.

Gulen supporters decry the accusations as ridiculous, saying all he leads is a more informal group known as Hizmet (Service).

The effective seizure of the newspaper by the state comes amid growing concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey under Erdogan’s rule.

The Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul were released on an order from Turkey’s top court last week after three months in jail on charges of publishing state secrets.

But they still face trial on March 25.

Meanwhile almost 2,000 journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens, including high school students, have found themselves prosecuted on accusations of insulting Erdogan.

Opponents say Erdogan, who served as premier from 2003-2014, has become an increasingly polarizing figure unable to tolerate any criticism.

However the government angrily dismisses allegations it is cracking down on the press, saying the cases against Cumhuriyet and pro-Gulen media have nothing to do with freedom of expression.