Turkish police on Saturday fired water cannons and tear gas to break up a protest over the seizure of Istanbul-based Zaman newspaper on the grounds that followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen used it to undermine Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power.
Police dispersed protesters around Zaman’s headquarters in Istanbul’s Yenibosna district for a second time since Friday’s decision by a Turkish court to appoint trustees to run the newspaper, which drew international criticism from the U.S. to Europe.
Zaman newspaper and other media companies owned by Feza Gazetecilik AS were used to support illegal activities of Gulen’s “parallel state structure,” the state-run Anadolu Agency said Saturday, citing a court ruling. Police used water cannons and tear gas against protesters Saturday when they refused to disperse peacefully, Anadolu said. Police also used force in a raid on Zaman headquarters late Friday, Cihan news agency said.
The Istanbul court decision to appoint trustees is nothing but a veiled move’ by “the president to eradicate opposition media and scrutiny of government policies,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on the group’s website. “This deplorable ruling, which follows the blocking of two critical TV stations, is the latest blow to free speech in Turkey.”
Earlier this week, Turkish government-appointed trustees shuttered media outlets owned by the Koza-Ipek Group, another Gulen-linked company. Zaman newspaper published Saturday with a black front page and headline reading “constitution suspended.”
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that the decision to place Zaman into trusteeship is “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.” He urged “Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in their own constitution, including freedom of speech and especially freedom of the press.”
Russia, whose ties with Turkey have been strained over the downing of a Russian warplane that strayed into Turkish airspace during a mission over Syria in November, also joined voiced criticism. Russia asked its Western partners to demand Turkey follow international responsibilities in area of freedom of speech and media, according to a statement by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on website.
“In a democratic society, as I’ve said many, many times, critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced,” Kirby said.