ISTANBUL — Police in Istanbul used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of demonstrators protesting the forceful takeover of Turkey’s largest newspaper.
The Zaman newspaper reopened earlier on March 5 amid a heavy police presence, hours after police raided the building to enforce a court-ordered seizure.
Footage shows police firing tear gas and water cannons and forcibly breaking a gate to enter the offices overnight.
The Cihan news agency and the Today’s Zaman English-language daily, which are part of the Feza Publications group that owns Zaman, are also affected by the court order placing Zaman under state control.
The newspaper is closely linked with U.S.-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s most influential foe.
Erdogan has accused Gulen of conspiring to overthrow the government by building a network of supporters in the judiciary, police, and media. Gulen’s movement has also been branded a terrorist organization, although it is not known to have carried out any acts of violence.
A court on March 4 appointed a state administrator to run Zaman and its sister outlets. State media say the decision was taken at the request of a prosecutor investigating the Gulen’s movement on terrorism charges.
Zaman’s seizure further reduces the number of independent media organizations in Turkey, which is dominated by pro-government news outlets.
The March 5 edition of Today’s Zaman, published before the raid, printed its entire front page in black with the headline: “Shameful Day For Free Press In Turkey.”
The swoop sparked concern in Washington and Brussels amid deepening worries over freedom of expression in Turkey.
State Department spokesman John Kirby condemned the takeover as “the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government targeting media outlets and others critical of it.”
EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said he was “extremely worried” about the move, which he said “jeopardizes progress” made by Ankara in other areas.
The takeover comes just days before a March 7 meeting during which EU leaders will try to convince Turkey to do more to curtail the flow of migrants traveling to Europe and take back thousands who do not qualify for asylum.
Some international rights advocacy groups have accused the European Union of muting its response to Zaman’s seizure, and more generally to deteriorating freedoms in Turkey, due to the country’s crucial role in the migrant crisis.
Daniel Calingaert, executive vice president of the U.S.-based watchdog Freedom House, said Washington and Brussels “should not trade Turkey’s support on migration and Syria for silence over the dismantling of democratic institutions.”
The European Federation of Journalists called on the European Union not to “remain silent to the political seizure of Zaman newspaper.”