It was not a matter of if but when the authoritarian government in power in Turkey would clampdown on Zaman (and it’s English-language version, Today’s Zaman) – Turkey’s largest circulation newspaper and which also happens to be a staunch critic of the Erdogan regime. This move is symptomatic of a regime that believes it can crush all opposition – Kurds, liberal democrat parties, or any media that raises criticisms of the ruling clique. That this latest blitz on the press and journalists comes at a time when Turkey has been woo-ing Europe, culminating in a notorious deal in which Turkey holds back refugees in return for billions of euros and promises of EU membership, is a sign of just how arrogant the Turkish Government is. But Erdogan knows he can continue to hold the EU hostage, so long as refugees continue to haemorrhage from the mid-east. Or can he…? (Below, in section ‘A’, we provide a recap of events; in section ‘B’, is a list of writers who condemned today’s clampdown; in section’C’ is a list of journalists murdered in Turkey; and in section ‘D’ are copies of the court ruling against Zaman, as well as proof at least one trustee appointed to run Zaman is close to Erdogan.)
Is this the last edition of Today’s Zaman minus Government interference?
Zaman’s editor and chief columnist were sacked earlier today and journalists at the newspaper were informed there would be a “change in editorial policy” – i.e. one that was conducive to Erdogan. Zaman’s website was temporarily taken down as the new ‘policy’ was implemented.
The decision to close down the current editorial team at Zaman was given by the İstanbul 6th Criminal Court of Peace at the request of the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which claimed that the media group that owned Zaman acted upon orders from what it called the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY),”, which the prosecutor claimed co-operates with the PKK. The court decision means that the entire management and the editorial board of Feza Media Group will be replaced by a three-member board named by the court.
Also, earlier today, Turkish police fired tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse 2,000 protesters who had gathered outside Zaman’s offices (photo above is of a similar confrontation on Friday evening).
Meanwhile, the head of the authority vetting countries hoping to join the European Union said that Turkey’s hopes of joing the EU have been “jeopardised” by this recent crackdown on press freedom. Johannes Hahn, the European Enlargement Commissioner, has said that he was “Extremely worried about latest developments on Zaman newspaper which jeopardises progress made by Turkey in other areas. We will continue to monitor this case closely. Turkey, as a candidate country, needs to respect freedom of the media.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey had 14 journalists in jail at the end of 2015. There have been a further 17 journalists arrested or detained in the country in 2016, according to verified incidents reported to Index on Censorship’s project Mapping Media Freedom.
Artist and writer Molly Crabapple commented, “the Turkish government’s takeover of Zaman is only one of their recent, frightening moves to curtail the already highly restricted freedoms of journalists working in Turkey. These include the trial of Cumhurriyat editors, the arrests of journalists working for the Kurdish leftist news site Jiyan, the three-month long detention of VICE News producer Mohammed Rasool, the detention of Syrian photojournalist Rami Jarrah, expulsions of foreign journalists, and the near complete press blackout in Eastern Turkey. Writers and journalists must call on the Turkish government to respect freedom of speech and press.”
“The Turkish presidential office’s interference in the media has reached a new level,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “It is absolutely illegitimate and intolerable that Erdoğan has used the judicial system to take control of a great newspaper in order to eliminate the Gülen community’s political base. “This ideological and unlawful operation shows how Erdoğan is now moving from authoritarianism to all-out despotism. Not content with throwing journalists in prison for ‘supporting terrorism’ or having them sentenced to pay heavy fines for ‘insulting the ‘head of state,’ he is now going further by taking control of Turkey’s biggest opposition newspaper.”
Journalist Fredericke Geerdink, who was arrested and deported from Turkey for reporting on the conflict with the Kurds, said “it’s no surprise at all that Zaman was taken over by the government. After all, the government’s papers hinted on it weeks ago already. It was not a matter of if, but when and how Zaman would be silenced, and the affiliated Cihan news agency with it. But let’s not pretend that this is the day democracy in Turkey was carried to its grave. The press in Turkey has never been free. President Erdogan is only taking the poor press freedom situation in Turkey to new, extreme levels by using existing structures in the state system. The end of his reign, which will inevitably come, will not be enough to save the media in Turkey. Both the laws restricting press freedom and the ownership structures in the media should be tackled. For this, it is crucial that journalists in Turkey stand together, despite the polarization in society that hinders solidarity among journalists as well.”
“The Istanbul court’s decision to appoint trustees to run Zaman newspaper and other media is nothing but a veiled move by the president to eradicate opposition media and scrutiny of government policies,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, HRW’s senior Turkey researcher. “This deplorable ruling, which follows the blocking of two critical TV stations, is the latest blow to free speech in Turkey.”
More condemnations here.
According to Turkey’s justice minister as many as 1,845 cases have been opened against people accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since he came to office in 2014.
Turkey’ satellite provider Türksat halted the broadcast of the independent İMC TV station last week on terrorism charges. Two newspapers and two television stations owned by Koza İpek Holding were placed under the management of a trustee board on charges of financing terrorism in October 2015. Those media outlets were closed down last week by the trustee board, due to “financial losses”.
Turkey is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
B. Writers condemn clampdown
Today, Index on Censorship joined with writers, journalists and artists around the world to condemn the seizure of Turkish independent media group, Zaman, and signed the following:
“Today Turkey seized one of the country’s leading newspapers, Zaman. In so doing, Turkey has confirmed that it is no longer committed to a free press, which is the bedrock of any democratic society. We, the undersigned, ask the court to reverse its decision to seize Zaman and urge the international community to speak out against Turkey’s repeated attempts to stifle a free and independent media.”
A selection of those who signed…
All the staff at Index on Censorship
David Aaronovitch, journalist and chair of Index on Censorship
Christophe Deloire, executive director, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Barbara Trionfi, executive director, International Press Institute
Rafael Marques de Morais, investigative journalist, MakaAngola.org
Tim Stanley, Telegraph columnist
Neil Mackay, editor, Sunday Herald, Glasgow
Molly Crabapple, artist and author
Richard Sambrook, professor of journalism, Cardiff University
Tom Holland, historian and author
Matthew Parris, writer and broadcaster
Amberin Zaman, journalist
Peter Kellner, author and writer
James Ball, special correspondent, Buzzfeed
Rupert Myers, political correspondent, GQ
Peter Pomeranzev, journalist and author
Peter Oborne, journalist
Philip Pullman, author
Jacob Mchangama, executive director, Justitia
Tamas Bodoky, editor-in-chief, atlatszo.hu
Kevin Maguire, associate editor, The Mirror
Ariel Dorfman, author
Mary Fitzgerald, editor in chief, OpenDemocracy.net
Catherine Mayer, journalist and author
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Ph.D.
Ian Birrell, journalist
Anthony Barnett, founder, openDemocracy
Tony Gallagher, editor-in-chief, The Sun
Maria Polachowska, journalist
Nick Dawes, chief content and editorial officer, Hindustan Times
Add your support on the petition at Change.org (more than 1000 already signed)
C. Journalists murdered in Turkey
23 Journalists Killed in Turkey/Motive Confirmed:
Naji Jerf, Hentah, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently; December 27, 2015, in Gaziantep, Turkey
Fares Hamadi, Eye on the Homeland; October 30, 2015, in Urfa, Turkey
Ibrahim Abd al-Qader, Eye on the Homeland, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently; October 30, 2015, in Urfa, Turkey
Cihan Hayırsevener, Güney Marmara’da Yaşam, December 19, 2009, in Bandirma, Turkey
Hrant Dink, Agos, January 19, 2007, in Istanbul, Turkey
Ahmet Taner Kislali, Cumhuriyet, October 21, 1999, in Ankara, Turkey
Metin Göktepe, Evrensel, January 8, 1996, in Istanbul, Turkey
Sayfettin Tepe, Yeni Politika, August 29, 1995, in Batman, Turkey
Erol Akgun, Devrimci Cozum, September 8, 1994, in Gebze, Turkey
Nazim Babaoglu, Ozgur Gundem, March 12, 1994, in near Urfa, Turkey
Aysel Malkac, Ozgur Gundem, August 7, 1993, in Istanbul, Turkey
Ferhat Tepe, Ozgur Gundem, July 28, 1993, in Bitlis, Turkey
Kemal Kilic, Ozgur Gundem, February 25, 1993, in Kulunce Village, Turkey
Ugur Mumcu, Cumhuriyet, January 27, 1993, in Ankara, Turkey
Namik Taranci, Gercek, November 20, 1992, in Diyarbakir, Turkey
Musa Anter, Ozgur Gundem, September 20, 1992, in Diyarbakir, Turkey
Huseyin Deniz, Ozgur Gundem, August 9, 1992, in Ceylanpinar, Turkey
Yahya Orhan, Ozgur Gundem, July 31, 1992, in Gercus, Turkey
Cetin Abayay, Ozgur Halk, July 29, 1992, in Batman, Turkey
Hafiz Akdemir, Ozgur Gundem, June 8, 1992, in Diyarbakir, Turkey
Izzet Kezer, Sabah, March 23, 1992, in Cizre, Turkey
Cengiz Altun, Yeni Ulke, February 24, 1992, in Batman, Turkey
Halit Gungen, 2000’e Dogru, February 9, 1992, in Diyarbakir, Turkey
3 Journalists Killed in Turkey/Motive Unconfirmed:
Metin Alataş, Azadiya Welat, April 4, 2010, in Adana, Turkey
Yasar Aktay, Freelancer, November 10, 1992, in Diyarbakir, Turkey
Mecit Akgun, Yeni Ulke, June 2, 1992, in Nusaybin, Turkey
One of the trustees appointed to take over Zaman is Sezai Şengönül, who serves as an editor at a news website. The two others are lawyers are Tahsin Kaplan and Metin İlhan. İlhan’s social media accounts show that he is an open supporter of the AK Party and Erdoğan. His personal Twitter account’s banner photo shows Erdoğan and Davutoğlu, while some of his tweets include insults of main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).