Turkish newspapers Bugün and Millet have painted their front pages black in protest of a Wednesday morning police raid on their offices, as well as the offices of Bugün TV and Kanaltürk. Police shut down the Kozi-Ipek media network and attacked journalists and protesters with tear gas and water cannons in what many claim is an abuse of government power.
Police shut down the Istanbul headquarters of Kozi-Ipek, the parent company of the media entities, after the government moved to appoint trustees over the company’s holdings and change the leadership of the company. Supporters of the corporation have decried the move as an illegal attempt to nationalize and control media that are adversarial towards President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Kozi-Ipek has ties to Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher Erdogan has accused of attempting to overthrow him and running a terrorism operation. Last week, the Turkish government announced new in-absentia charges against Gulen, who lives in the United States. Gulen is also under investigation in the United States; in 2014, the FBI raided a number of Gulen-operated charter schools in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
On Wednesday, the front pages of both Bugün and Millet were dressed in black with the headline “A dark day for our democracy, for our freedom, and for Turkey.” In an editorial column, the boards of both newspapers condemned the crackdown as “another unlawful decision” and tied the event to parliamentary elections on Sunday.
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To shut down Kozi-Ipek’s operations, police used tear gas and water cannons on supportive crowds, and attempted to shut down the television broadcasts of both networks by force. To get into the office building, police cut through gates with chainsaws and broke into the networks’ control rooms, ordering the broadcasts shut down. They succeeded in only briefly shutting down the broadcasts, which aired the tumult within their offices live. Outside, police arrested a Bugün reporter, Kamil Maman, while others claim to have been physically assaulted. Using the hashtag
#susmayız (“we cannot be silent”), those present at the crackdown have been posting images of the state of affairs in front of the Kozi-Ipek offices. One reporter posted a photo of his ID card splattered in blood.
Videos taken by eyewitnesses also show violence towards protesters and media.
Also involved in the imbroglio were members of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), an opposition group that the AKP courted to form a coalition government with following parliamentary elections earlier this year. Their failure to agree on terms for a coalition government has prompted a second round of elections set to occur Sunday. “Today is a shameful day. … Everyone who made this decision and those who implemented it will have to answer for their crimes,” CHP lawmaker Baris Yarkadas said of the incident. Yarkadas broke into one of the network’s control rooms to help staffers prevent police from cutting the broadcast.
Kozi-Ipek is receiving support from other outlets, such as the daily newspaper Hurriyet and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a left-wing Kurd-friendly party that is typically at odds with the CHP. “It is unbelievable that a state; a government’s acting rudely, like a mafia, like an illegal organization … right in the public eye, during a live broadcast,” said HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş during a visit to the offices of the media conglomerate following the arrests. “You may appoint the board of trustees for a temporary period. … Spraying pepper gas, using batons, cutting the cables are mafia-like, gang-like practices,” he concluded.
The Turkish government has made a habit of storming newspaper offices and attempting to shut them down when they publish content at odds with the AKP. Bugün was previously raided in September after publishing a story claiming that the government had sold weapons to the Islamic State. The newspaper Cumhuriyet was shut down in January for publishing cartoons by the editors of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine that had been attacked by Islamists shortly before the publication ran. Nokta, a magazine, was raided for publishing an unflattering cartoon of President Erdogan.
When the police have not raided newspapers and political party offices, supportive mobs have done the work for them. Hurriyet fell under attack twice by mobs of more than one hundred people, including elected AKP officials, in September, with crowds attempting to stone the doors of their Istanbul and Ankara offices to break in, shouting “Allahu akbar.”
Both the CHP and HDP, meanwhile, have been attacked. On Monday, a gunman attacked the Ankara headquarters of the CHP. Since September, the HDP has claimed hundreds of attacks, ranging from shootings to bombings to stoning attempts.