A Turkish media group critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was ordered into official administration by an Istanbul court on Friday.
At the request of the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the court ordered three trustees to be appointed to take over the management of the Feza media group. The group includes one of Turkey’s most popular newspapers, Zaman, as well as the English language Today’s Zaman newspaper, and the Cihan news agency.
The prosecutor claimed that the media group acted upon orders of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FeTÖ/PDY), the styling used by the government for the Hizmet movement founded by Fethullah Gülen.
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) March 5, 2016
It also alleged that FeTÖ/PDY is cooperating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to topple the Turkish government and that high-level officials of the two groups have had meetings abroad.
It is expected that the court-appointed managers will transform the group’s editorial line. In October, four media organizations owned by a company linked to Gulen were placed under court-ordered trusteeship, turning them into pro-government outlets, the Associated Press reports.
— Sevgi Akarcesme (@SevgiAkarcesme) March 4, 2016
Staff at Today’s Zaman finished its next edition before administrators arrived.
Editor-in-Chief Sevgi Akarcesme told Reuters: “This means the practical end of media freedom in Turkey. The media has always been under pressure, but it has never been so blatant.”
“Taking over a newspaper is against the constitution, especially since there are no grounds for it. This amounts to the suspension of the constitution.”
Crackdown on expression
Turkey’s government has taken a hard line on criticism, raising concerns over freedom of expression in the country.
Cumhuriyet newspaper Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and its Ankara representative Erdem Gül were jailed for three months on espionage charges following the paper’s reporting on alleged Turkish arms shipments to Syria. The pair were released last week after the constitutional court ruled their detention was unlawful. They face trial on March 25.
TV channels Bengütürk TV and İMC TV were recently dropped from state-run satellite Türksat.
In the run-up to the June 2015 parliamentary election, government caretakers were appointed to TV stations Bugün TV and Kanaltürk.
Almost 2,000 people, including journalists, bloggers and high school students, have been prosecuted for allegedly insulting Erdogan.
The Gülen link
The Zaman Media Group is linked with religious leader Fethullah Gülen who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.
Gülen is the founder of the movement known as Hizmet, which means “service”. He teaches that the Muslim community has a duty of service for the “common good” to Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world. Gülen has said he believes in science, interfaith dialogue, and multi-party democracy.
President Erdogan accuses Gülen of conspiring to overthrow the government through a network of supporters in the judiciary, police and media. Erdogan blames Gülen for instigating a 2013 corruption probe that he said was an attempt to overthrow him.
The government says Gülen runs what it calls the Fethullahaci Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FeTÖ/PDY). Authorities have branded the movement a terrorist organization, although it is not known to have carried out acts of violence, and have demanded Gülen’s extradition.
The move against Zaman came only hours after four businessmen were detained over allegations of financing Gülen’s group.
Turkey is in talks about joining the EU. How this latest move is treated by EU governments and the European Commission could have lasting impacts on Turkey’s accession.
A European Commission spokesperson said that the EU “has repeatedly stressed that Turkey, as a candidate country, needs to aspire to the highest possible democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media”.
“Any country negotiating its EU accession needs to guarantee human rights, including freedom of expression, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights,” the spokesperson added.
3 days before a key summit with the EU, Turkey effectively seizes the country's highest circulated newspaper, Zaman, a Gulenist daily. Wow.
— Piotr Zalewski (@p_zalewski) March 4, 2016
Head of EU delegation to Turkey on Zaman's takeover:Free,autonomous & multi-colored press is one of the key requirements in #Turkey's EU bid
— Humeyra Pamuk (@humeyra_pamuk) March 4, 2016
Image: Sevgi Akarcesme, Editor-in-Chief of Today’s Zaman, the English language offering of the Zaman group, working on the front page of the newspaper’s last issue before the takeover of its management by the Turkish government. @SevgiAkarcesme/Twitter
— IPI (@globalfreemedia) March 4, 2016
— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) March 4, 2016
— Sevgi Akarcesme (@SevgiAkarcesme) March 4, 2016