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Opposition newspaper seized by Turkish court

March 4, 2016

The "Zaman" newspaper has been ordered into administration by a court, the state-run Anadolu agency has said. US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen controls "Zaman," which has been sharply critical of the government.

Türkei Leser mit Zeitung Zaman
Image: picture-alliance/AA/B. Ozkan

Turkish authorities moved Friday to seize control of a critical newspaper with links to US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Administrators have now been appointed to run the flagship "Zaman" newspaper at the request of an Istanbul prosecutor, reports said. The decision means the court will appoint new managers to run the newspaper, which claims a circulation of 850,000, one of the largest in Turkey.

Staff members at "Today's Zaman," an English-language publication produced by the group, were rushing to put out the next edition of the paper before administrators arrived, Editor-in-Chief Sevgi Akarcesme told the Reuters news agency.

"This means the practical end of media freedom in Turkey. The media has always been under pressure, but it has never been so blatant," Akarcesme said. "Taking over a newspaper is against the constitution, especially since there are no grounds for it. This amounts to the suspension of the constitution."

Dozens of supporters were gathered outside the paper's headquarters in Istanbul awaiting the arrival of bailiffs and security forces after the court order.

"We will fight for a free press," said a placard held by one protestor, according to live images broadcast on the pro-Gulen Samanyolu TV.

"We have now been threatened with confiscation through the appointment of trustees," "Today's Zaman" said in a statement on its website before the report.

Fethullah Gülen
Rarely seen in public, 74-year-old Gulen has long been one of Turkey's most influential figuresImage: picture alliance/dpa/S. Sevi/Handout Zaman Da

Reclusive cleric emerges as critic of Erdogan

The global business empire controlled by Gulen had once been allied to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

But a growing rift turned into open warfare with the Gulenist media outlets becoming sharply critical of the AKP, and Erdogan accused Gulen of treason and intent to overthrow the government.

In related news, police in the central city of Kayseri detained Boydak Holding's chairman, chief executive officer and two board members on Friday over allegations that the company provided financial support to the shadowy Hizmet movement led by Gulen.

The government has purged civil servants suspected of ties to the Gulenist movement, seized businesses and already closed some media organizations.

Gulen has lived in exile in the United States since 1999. Erdogan has repeatedly called for the elderly cleric extradited to Turkey to answer charges of trying to form a "parallel state" that undermines the government's own authority.

Karte Pressefreiheit Weltweit 2015 ENG

jar/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP)