EU urged to condemn crackdown

By Telegraph

Turkish police fire tear gas into crowds in Istanbul. Photo / AP
Turkish police fire tear gas into crowds in Istanbul. Photo / AP

The European Union is facing increasing pressure to speak out against the erosion of media freedom in Turkey following the takeover of the country's largest-circulation newspaper, but few expect it to take a bold stance towards Ankara while trying to assure it's help in dealing with the migration crisis.

Police used tear gas and water cannons for a second day running yesterday to disperse hundreds of protesters outside the headquarters of Zaman newspaper - now surrounded by police fences.

Law enforcement officers stormed the building on Saturday to enforce the court-ordered seizure of the publication, which is linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's top foe, US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The protesters chanted "free press cannot be silenced" and "Zaman cannot be silenced" as riot police used shields and fired tear gas to push back the crowd, sending demonstrators running into side streets for protection.

Some were seen rubbing their faces with pieces of lemon to mitigate the effects of the tear gas, the private Dogan news agency reported. Several protesters were injured.

The Istanbul court's appointment of trustees to manage Zaman and its sister outlets further reduced the number of opposition media organisations in Turkey, which is dominated by pro-government news outlets. It raised alarm bells over the deterioration of rights conditions in the Nato member nation, which also aspires for EU membership, just before a meeting tomorrow in which EU leaders will try to convince Turkey to do more to curtail the flow of migrants to Europe.

"The EU countries are preoccupied with their migration crisis, they are no longer concerned by rights violations in Turkey," said Semih Idiz, columnist for the opposition Cumhuriyet and independent Daily Hurriyet newspapers. "They'll say a few things as a matter of form, but they know they are dependent on Turkey."

The last edition of the English-language Today's Zaman, published before the forced takeover, printed its entire front page in black with the headline: "Shameful day for free press in Turkey".

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking to Turkish reporters during a visit to Iran, insisted the appointment of trustee managers was a legal decision, not a political one and denied any government involvement.

Rights groups accuse EU nations of keeping mute about deteriorating freedoms and human rights abuses in Turkey - including the large civilian death toll during military operations against Kurdish militants - because of the country's crucial role in curtailing the flow of migrants to Europe.

"The European Union and the United States, as Turkey's partners and allies, should not trade Turkey's support on migration and Syria for silence over the dismantling of democratic institutions," said Daniel Calingaert, executive vice-president of the US-based watchdog, Freedom House, following Zaman's takeover.

A woman bleeds from an injury after riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse people gathered in support, outside the headquarters of Zaman newspaper. Photo / AP
A woman bleeds from an injury after riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse people gathered in support, outside the headquarters of Zaman newspaper. Photo / AP

The European Federation of Journalists said: "The European Union cannot remain silent to the political seizure of Zaman newspaper, Today's Zaman daily and Cihan news agency."

But the EU commissioner for enlargement, Johannes Hahn, said on Twitter that he was "extremely worried" by the development.

"Turkey, as a candidate country, needs to respect freedom of the media," Hahn said.

European Parliament President Martin Schultz said he intends to raise the issue with Davutoglu in Brussels.

Seizure part of tough stance

Zaman's seizure was part of an intensified crackdown on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's top foe, US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The Turkish Government claims Gulen's movement is attempting to topple it. Authorities accuse the movement's followers of infiltrating police and the judiciary and of orchestrating corruption allegations in 2013 that implicated Erdogan's inner circle, as part of their alleged bid to bring down the Government.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, was once Erdogan's ally. Over the past years, however, the Government has purged thousands of civil servants allegedly linked to the movement and seized businesses affiliated to it.

- AP

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