REUTERSPolice forced their way into the Zaman officesPolice and protestors clashed after bestselling daily opposition paper Zaman was placed under state control without explanation yesterday.Hundreds of the paper’s readers and supporters gathered outside the offices in heavy rain on Friday night and throughout today to protest at what they see as an attack on press freedom.They were heard chanting ‘free press cannot be silenced’ while holding placards with slogans including ‘don’t touch my newspaper’ and ‘we will fight for a free press’.Police turned on the crowd, firing tear gas and water cannons into the group.Protestors were hit with tear gas outside the Zaman officesJournalists from the newspaper said they had been banned from entering the building with editor-in-chief of Zaman Today Sevgi Akarcesme tweeting: “This is pure despotism. They physically blocked me, both men and women.”But journalists are remaining defiant.Zaman’s editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici said shortly before the raid: “I believe that free media will continue even if we have to write on the walls. I don’t think it is possible to silence media in the digital age.”
The popular paper, with a circulation of 650,000, has been critical of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.A statement released by Zaman said: “We have now been threatened with confiscation through the appointment of trustees. We are deeply concerned about all these developments that undermine Turkey’s democratic performance.”We believe the only way out of this nightmarish atmosphere is to return to democracy and the rule of law. We are publishing our concerns to inform the Turkish nation, intellectuals who believe in democracy and the wider world.”Protestors were hit with water cannons as they campaigned for press freedomThe Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the move was the beginning of the end for critical journalism in the country.Joel Simon, CPJ executive director, said: “Today’s move by the court paves the way to effectively strangle the remnants of critical journalism in Turkey.“Zaman and Today’s Zaman play an essential and critical role in informing Turkish society and the world. Rather than taking aggressive action to undermine the newspapers, Turkish authorities should be fulfilling their constitutional obligation to defend press freedom and rights of the journalists.”The paper has also linked to the Hizmet movement of influential self-exiled US preacher Fethullah Gulen.Police officrs entered the Zaman buildingThe government claims Hizmet is a terrorist group aiming to overthrow the president.Authorities have put the cleric, who claims Hizmet promotes peace, on its list of most wanted terrorists.The president and Mr Gulen, who has been in Pennsylvania since 2009, were once allies but relations soured when the government began to crackdown on private schools run by the preacher three years ago.This week’s ruling over Zaman will add to concerns over freedom of speech in Turkey after opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, were taken into custody in November, accused of spying.The pair, who were released a few days ago, ran a front page story in May 2015 accusing Turkey’s intelligence agency of sending weapons to Islammist rebel groups in Syria the previous year. They still face life imprisonment when their case goes to court late this month.In October 2015, police stormed the offices of Turkish media group Koza Ipek, owners of television channel Kanalturk TV, using chainsaws to hack down the gates to the media compound.
One TV channel belonging to the company, which also has links to Mr Gulen, was taken off air during live broadcasting.