Protests in Turkey as government seizes control of prominent newspaper

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TURKEY’S biggest newspaper, Zaman, went out in a blaze of glory on Saturday (March 5), rushing out a defiant last edition to protest the paper’s imminent takeover in Istanbul by the national government.

Saturday’s edition featured an entirely black front page and the headline, “Shameful day for free press in Turkey.” The paper also proclaimed that the press in Turkey had experienced “one of the darkest days in history.”

The paper will continue to operate, but under strict government control, and the editor in chief and a prominent columnist were sacked on Saturday and escorted from the premises.

On Friday, Turkish police fired tear gas at protesters, and on Saturday they used a cannon to blast water at about 500 people who had congregated in front of the office chanting, “Free press cannot be silenced!”

The seizure of the paper came on the heels of a court ruling on Friday (March 4), in which a  public prosecutor alleged that the paper should be investigated for terrorism.

The newspaper has strong ties to the Hizmet movement of Fethullah Gulen, a powerful US-based political opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has classified this movement a terrorist group, and have claimed that Gulen is conspiring to overthrow the government.

Zaman’s editor in chief Abdulhamit Bilici was feeling optimistic. “I believe that free media will continue even if we have to write on the walls,” he said on Friday. “I don’t think it’s possible to silence media in the digital age.”

Critics of the government takeover have expressed concern in regards to the dramatic changes to the paper that have already become apparent. The newest edition, published on Sunday March 6, seems to have adopted a new pro-government slant, and whereas it previously ran 42 pages, the most recent edition clocked in at just 12.

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