Turkish police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at thousands of protesters demonstrating against the government’s takeover of the country’s largest newspaper.
The Zaman media group’s offices were raided late on Friday night, breaking through a gate and storming the building before dragging out many of the journalists inside.
Demonstrators who gathered outside as outrage mounted over Turkey’s latest violation of press freedom were dispersed using water cannons and the scenes were repeated on Saturday as anger grew.
Reuters news agency estimated that around 2,000 people gathered outside Zaman’s headquarters in Istanbul as administrators enacted a court order placing it under state control.
Footage showed tear gas and rubber bullets being fired at the crowd, while a photo being widely shared on social media showed a female protester with blood running down her face.
Zaman staff members have been chronicling the takeover of their newspaper on Twitter, with one calling it “the end of democracy” in Turkey.
“Internet connection gone,” Abdullah Ayasun wrote. “Passwords do not work, our access to system is blocked. That’s what happens when govt seizes a newspaper.”
He later posted a photo showing him backing up his desk, writing: “I can't stand seeing Zaman turns to gov't mouthpiece.”
Abdullah Bozkurt, another journalist for Zaman, said that its offices in Ankara had also lost access to internal servers and chronicled new rules enforced by “government caretakers”.
He alleged that staff were forbidden from going to the toilet in pairs or groups, writing that any bathroom breaks must now be taken alone.
Earlier on Saturday, the trustees enacting the takeover had called staff in for a meeting reportedly announcing a “change in editorial policy” and firing editor Abdülhamit Bilici.
“Humanity is under threat,” he wrote on Twitter, accusing the government of persecution.
Today’s Zaman, the newspaper’s English language edition, said all content management systems had been blocked but vowed to continue reporting on social media.
Journalists said administrators were starting attempts to erase the papers’ entire news archive on both the internet and internal intranet.
Zaman had issued a defiant last independent edition on Saturday, saying Turkey’s press had experienced “one of the darkest days in its history”.
“The Constitution is suspended,” a headline on a black background read, according to a translation by the BBC.
Its English-language edition echoed its parent paper’s sentiment, writing online: “Shameful day for free press in Turkey.”
More than 1,200 people have so far signed a petition started by Index on Censorship condemning the seizure of Zaman and calling to “end Turkey’s crackdown on press freedom”.
“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,” said the petition, signed by prominent journalists including David Aaronovitch, Matthew Parris, Peter Kellner and Tony Gallagher.
Turkey ranks 149th among the 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index.
The group called President Erdogan “despotic” in a strong statement from secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Human rights attacks around the world
Human rights attacks around the world
Escalating crackdown against human rights activists including mass arrests of lawyers and a series of sweeping laws in the name of ‘national security’.
The arrest of thousands, including peaceful critics, in a ruthless crackdown in the name of national security, the prolonged detention of hundreds without charge or trial and the sentencing of hundreds of others to death.
Torture, enforced disappearances and the criminalisation of LGBTI people; and utter refusal to co-operate with the UN and regional human rights mechanisms on issues including freedom of expression, enforced disappearance and the death penalty.
Sealing off its borders to thousands of refugees in dire need; and obstructing collective regional attempts to help them.
Maintaining its military blockade of Gaza and therefore collective punishment of the 1.8 million inhabitants there, as well as failing, like Palestine, to comply with a UN call to conduct credible investigations into war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza conflict.
Extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and discrimination against refugees in its counter-terrorism operations; and attempts to undermine the International Criminal Court and its ability to pursue justice.
The severe human rights failings of its response to the horrific Peshawar school massacre including its relentless use of the death penalty; and its policy on international NGOs giving authorities the power to monitor them and close them down if they are considered to be “against the interests” of the country.
Repressive use of vague national security and anti-extremism legislation and its concerted attempts to silence civil society in the country; its shameful refusal to acknowledge civilian killings in Syria and its callous moves to block Security Council action on Syria.
9/10 Saudi Arabia
Brutally cracking down on those who dared to advocate reform or criticise the authorities; and committing war crimes in the bombing campaign it has led in Yemen (pictured) while obstructing the establishment of a UN-led inquiry into violations by all sides in the conflict.
Killing thousands of civilians in direct and indiscriminate attacks with barrel bombs and other weaponry and through acts of torture in detention; and enforcing lengthy sieges of civilian areas, blocking international aid from reaching starving civilians.
The Turkish government accuses Zaman of supporting US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who was once an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but is now held as a “terrorist” inciting a coup through his religious Gülen movement.
The newspaper, which has a daily readership of around 650,000, was taken over days after Turkey's Constitutional Court ordered the release of two Turkish journalists charged with revealing state secrets.
Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, from the Cumhuriyet newspaper, were arrested in November over a report alleging that the Turkish government had tried to ship arms to Islamists in Syria.
The pair still face possible life sentences at their trial on 25 March.
Two newspapers and two television channels were also put under state administration over their alleged links with the Gülen, or Hizmet, movement last year.
Additional reporting by agenciesReuse content