Turkey's Largest Opposition Daily Zaman Reopens Under Government Control

With its editor-in-chief removed from his post, supporters gather outside the offices of the newspaper decaying what they see as a crackdown on freedom of the press.

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Readers of Zaman newspaper hold copies of the daily as they protest against a raid by counter-terror police in Istanbul on December 14, 2014.
Readers of Zaman newspaper hold copies of the daily as they protest against a raid by counter-terror police in Istanbul on December 14, 2014.Credit: AFP

DPA - Zaman newspaper, Turkey's largest-circulated media outlet that was seized by the government, reopened Saturday under heavy police guard and with the editor-in-chief removed from his post.

Staff posted photos on social media of armed forces inside the building and also guarding the barricaded perimeter after police raided the offices. The daily's editor, Abdulhamit Bilici, left the building to the applause of staff.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to force their way into the newspaper's headquarters on Friday night. Fresh rounds of tear gas were fired Saturday at supporters who were demonstrating outside the building, decrying what they see as a crackdown on freedom of the press.

Staff members were calling the Saturday morning paper the "last edition," before the government-appointed trustees took over. The front page was black with the words "The Constitution is Suspended."

Officials from the European Union, which Turkey has been trying to join for decades, were critical of the takeover.

"Turkey, as an [EU] candidate country, needs to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media," the office of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

Any country seeking EU membership has to guarantee fundamental rights, the office added.

Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, said he would speak with Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu on Monday, at a previously scheduled EU-Turkey summit in Brussels.

"The EU will not lower its sights when it comes to adherence to its fundamental values," Schulz told the German paper Tagesspiegel am Sonntag.

Earlier this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would neither "obey nor respect" a Constitutional Court ruling that ordered the release of two jailed opposition journalists. The reporters still face terrorism charges.

The Turkish edition of the Zaman newspaper has a daily circulation of 850,000 print copies, making it the largest opposition paper in the country.

Zaman, which also has an English-language paper, is seen as being affiliated with the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Islamic preacher who fell out of grace with Erdogan in recent years. The government has pushed the line that the preacher's movement, known as Hizmet (Service), is a terrorist group.

Staff at the paper said the government's charges appeared focused on the relationship with Gulen and allegations of collaboration with the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In the past, one reporter noted, the Gulenists were accused of being anti-Kurdish.

The state-run Anadolu news agency reported a court had ordered a state-appointed trusteeship to take over Zaman, though no reason was given in the report.

Zaman is the latest media outlet to face the strong arm of the government, after authorities took over other critical media outlets, including newspaper and television stations allegedly affiliated with Gulen. Leftist media houses are also facing restrictions.

In addition to the crackdown on media, there have also been moves to silence people accused of "insulting" Erodogan. The Justice Ministry this week confirmed some 1,850 criminal investigations have been opened into citizens who were critical of the president.

Erdogan, who has led Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, insists Turkey has the freest media in the world.

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