A court in Istanbul has appointed trustees to take control of a newspaper critical of the Turkish government, the country’s semi-official news agency has reported.
The court on Friday accused the publication, Today’s Zaman, of spreading propaganda to destabilize the Turkish state, according to the Anadolu Agency.
The action appears to reflect an ongoing power struggle between the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a former ally turned bitter critic, the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Erdogan accuses Gulen and his followers of creating a “parallel state” — a clandestine group of people in official positions in the judiciary, law enforcement and elsewhere in government who are dedicated to the ouster of Erdogan and his allies.
On the other hand, critics accuse Erdogan of authoritarianism, including by stifling dissent and quashing free speech.
Sevgi Akarcesme, editor in chief of Today’s Zaman, the English-language sister paper of Zaman, called the court’s action a violation of the constitution and a “politically motivated…witch hunt.” She said the paper was unable to publish Sunday’s edition and its Internet service was cut off.
Move condemned by free press advocates
The action of the Istanbul court Friday drew quick condemnation.
“Today’s move by the court paves the way to effectively strangle the remnants of critical journalism in Turkey,” Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said Friday.
In a statement, the European Union called on Turkey “to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media.”
“Free, diverse and independent media constitute one of the cornerstones of a democratic society by facilitating the free flow of information and ideas, and by ensuring transparency and accountability,” the statement said.
Anti-censorship protests took place in front of Today’s Zaman’s headquarters on Friday, and televised video showed protesters clashing outside the building with police, who fired tear gas and used a water cannon to disperse the crowd.
In a related development, four Turkish businessmen were detained as part of an investigation into the “parallel state,” local police said.
Boydak Holding Executive Board Chairman Haci Boydak and his younger brother, CEO Memduh Boydak, were accused of being members of, and providing financial support to, the “parallel state.” Two other executives — Murat Boydak and Erol Boydak — were accused of spreading propaganda for the organization on social media.