By Sevgi Akarcesme
Istanbul — THE virtual control he already has of a majority of Turkey’s newspapers and TV stations apparently isn’t enough for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Friday, with the zeal of its despotic leader, his government seized my paper, Today’s Zaman, and its parent, the Turkish-language Zaman, which is the highest-circulating daily in the country. Together, these titles were two of the few remaining independent voices inside Turkey — and Today’s Zaman, in particular, was a reliable English-language news source for diplomats, academics and expatriates.
On Friday, a government-controlled court appointed trustees to take over the newspapers in what amounts to a politically motivated assault. At midnight, protesters faced tear gas and water cannons as riot police stormed our Istanbul headquarters.
The authorities used power tools to force open the iron gate to the building. The following day, our Internet connection was cut off to stop staff members from working on a special edition about the takeover. Since then, the authorities have been unplugging the newspapers’ servers, destroying our digital archive.
Some hours after the raid, I told the police officer smoking a cigarette outside the main gate, “This is a nonsmoking area.” He replied: “Not anymore.” That response underscores a broader shift in Turkey: a dangerous trajectory toward an end of the rule of law.
It’s bad enough that more than 20 Turkish journalists are behind bars. But Friday will be remembered as the day when media freedoms were even more severely curtailed, in flagrant violation of the Constitution.
In November, two prominent Turkish journalists, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, senior editors of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, were arrested on charges of aiding an armed terrorist organization and publishing material that threatened state security. They were released last month, after the constitutional court ruled that their rights had been violated, but still face trial and, if convicted, possible life sentences. Mr. Erdogan said he had “no respect” for the court decision that led to their release.