Turkish police have raided the premises of opposition newspaper "Zaman," using tear gas and water cannon to break up a protest rally. Court-appointed managers were then escorted into the building.
Hours after a court placed the "Zaman" newspaper under the management of trustees, police used tear gas and water cannon to raid the country's largest-circulation newspaper. Police then entered the building with court-appointed managers and evicted the newspaper workers.
The court order came as a result of a case brought by a public prosecutor in Istanbul for the editorial board and management to be replaced by people named by the court. "Zaman" Editor-in-Chief Abdulhamid Bilici addressed his colleagues, calling the court decision a "black day for democracy" in Turkey.
Late on Friday, police broke up a protest rally which had gathered outside the newspaper's offices in Istanbul.
"Zaman" is linked to moderate Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who has lived in the US since 1999. Gulen was placed on trial in absentia last year on charges of attempting to topple the government.
The court order also affects the English-language "Today's Zaman," and a news agency linked to the group. Last October, courts placed four other media organizations owned by a company linked to Gulen, under trusteeship. Their editorial line then became pro-government.
The order against the newspaper has heightened concerns over deteriorating press freedoms in Turkey. The US State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said: "We urge 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."
European Union Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, expressed concern via social media:
Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said: "I see this as an extremely serious interference with media freedom which should have no place in a democratic society." He added: "It is the latest in a string of unacceptable and undue restrictions of media freedom in Turkey."
The activist group for journalists, Reporters without Borders, issued a strongly-worded statement, accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of "moving from authoritarianism to all-out despotism."
Earlier on Friday, police detained four senior officials of Boydak Holding company, which has ties to Gulen, over allegations that it provided financial support to the opposition movement.
jm/bw (AFP, AP)