Turkey: EU leaders should react to the political seizure of Zaman media group

Turkish police raided the offices of Zaman, the country’s biggest newspaper, on 4 March in Istanbul, hours after a court ruling placed it under state control. The day after, Turkish riot police fired plastic bullets and tear gas to disperse around 500 protesters who gathered outside the newspaper to show their solidarity at the shout of “Free press cannot be silenced”, media reported. The International and European Federation of Journalists, (IFJ) and (EFJ), strongly condemn the ongoing media crackdown against Zaman media group and press freedom in Turkey.

According to local media reports, an İstanbul court appointed trustees on March 4 to take over management of Zaman-Today’s Zaman newspapers and Cihan news agency. The appointment of trustees may also have international implications for media workers since the Zaman media group also publishes affiliated newspapers in more than 35 countries.

“We strongly condemn these interferences to media freedom in Turkey, which are incompatible with a so-called democratic society,” said IFJ President, Jim Boumelha. “We stand by our Turkish colleagues to defend press freedom, media pluralism and job security for over 1.000 journalists and media staff working for the media group.”

The EFJ called the European leaders to react to the political seizure of the newspaper.

“The European Union cannot remain silent to the political seizure of Zaman newspaper, Today’s Zaman daily and Cihan news agency. The appointment of trustees by the judicial system was actually foreseen to save dying private companies and cannot be used to silence critical media outlets or to attack social rights of media workers”, said the EFJ President, Mogens Blicher Bjerregård.

The Deutsche Journalisten-Verband (DJV), an IFJ and EFJ affiliate in Germany, has also criticised the never ending “climate of harassment, intimidation and persecution of critical journalists in Turkey”.

Zaman media group is considered to be related to the Hizmet movement led by the US-based conservative Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, a former ally turned foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On 4 March, Today’s Zaman newspaper’s editorial said that, “Turkey’s highest circulating newspaper, Zaman, and its sister publication Today’s Zaman have come under serious pressure for more than two years, which has taken the form of accreditation bans, tax inspections, meddling with its advertisers and threats to its readers. We have now been threatened with confiscation through the appointment of trustees. We are deeply concerned about all these developments that undermine Turkey’s democratic performance. We believe the only way out of this nightmarish atmosphere is to return to democracy and the rule of law. We are publishing our concerns to inform the Turkish nation, intellectuals who believe in democracy and the wider world”.

Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights , said that, “This seizure is the latest in a string of unacceptable and undue restrictions of media freedom in Turkey and it reinforces an extremely worrying pattern of judicial harassment against dissenting media and journalists in the country.” The Commissioner urged the Turkish authorities to take all necessary measures to reverse the effects of these interferences. OSCE Representative, Dunja Mijatović, also called on Turkey to refrain from acts of intimidation against media.

The IFJ and EFJ will together report this case to the Council of Europe’s platform for the protection and safety of journalists and to the Mapping Media Freedom platform as a new example of media freedom violation in Turkey.

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