INSTANBUL, Turkey, March 5 (UPI) — Turkish police and protesters surrounded the country’s largest newspaper, Zaman, after a court ruling placed the it under government control.
Zaman employees returned to work Saturday after going through police clearance checkpoints, one day after authorities raided the newspaper’s building. An Istanbul court has ordered trustees to take over Feza Media Group, which includes Zaman, Today’s Zaman and Cihan News Agency.
The newspaper released its final edition ahead of the raid declaring the takeover a “shameful day for free press” in the country.
“We’ve lost access to our email accounts at #Zaman. No explanation, no notification whatsoever. #Turkey. They’re pulling plugs on everything,” Today’s Zaman representative Abdullah Bozkurt tweeted on Saturday from his seized workplace.
Police raided the office building Friday shortly after a court ruling turned over the newspaper to the state, prompting passionate protests from readers. A reported group of about 500 have been dispersed by use of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons by authorities, BBC reported.
The final edition of the once-independent Turkish newspaper had the headline “The Constitution is suspended,” adding Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s broke his promise of truly free press.
“I believe that free media will continue even if we have to write on the walls,” Zaman’s Editor-in-Chief Abdulhamit Bilici said before the forceful acquisition. “I don’t think it is possible to silence media in the digital age.”
The government’s takeover of Zaman and its affiliates is due to an alleged deterioration of rights to free-speech amid President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist administration, The New York Times reported.
“We are going through the darkest and gloomiest days in terms of freedom of the press, which is a major benchmark for democracy and the rule of law,” a statement from Today’s Zaman editors said. “Intellectuals, businesspeople, celebrities, civil society organizations, media organizations and journalists are being silenced via threats and blackmail.”
BBC reported the Zaman newspaper is linked to the Hizmet movement, led by U.S.-based cleric Fethulla Gulen. The movement’s followers are considered terrorists by Turkey’s government because they seek to overthrow Erdogan’s rule.
Cihan, one of Zaman’s online affiliates, is also under trustee control. Access to the outlet, which Today’s Zaman reported was the only news agency monitoring elections besides the already state-run Anadolu, has been blocked by trustees.