Seized Turkish daily prints defiant edition

Turkish riot police using water cannons and tear gas to disperse supporters at the Zaman daily's headquarters in Istanbul just before midnight on Friday. "The Constitution is suspended," the newspaper, which managed to print its latest issue after th
Turkish riot police using water cannons and tear gas to disperse supporters at the Zaman daily's headquarters in Istanbul just before midnight on Friday. "The Constitution is suspended," the newspaper, which managed to print its latest issue after the violent takeover, said on its front page in large font on a black background.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It warns of 'darkest days' in the history of press even as the state seizes control of HQ

ISTANBUL • Turkey's top-selling Zaman newspaper published a defiant edition yesterday warning of the "darkest days" in the history of the press after the authorities seized control of its headquarters in a dramatic late-night raid.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons just before midnight on Friday at a hundreds-strong crowd that had formed outside the headquarters of the Zaman daily in Istanbul following a court order issued earlier in the day. The clash continued yesterday.

The swoop caused immediate concern in the United States and European Union amid intensifying worries over the climate for freedom of expression in Turkey. EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said he was "extremely worried".

Zaman, which is closely linked to Mr Erdogan's arch-foe, the US- based preacher Fethullah Gulen, was ordered into administration by the court on the request of Istanbul prosecutors, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.

"The Constitution is suspended," the newspaper, which managed to print its latest issue after the violent takeover, said on its front page in large font on a black background.

"The Turkish press has experienced one of the darkest days in its history," it added.

"Turkey's mass-circulation newspaper was seized despite Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's assurance that 'free press is our redline'."

Zaman's editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici told Cihan news agency, which is part of the Zaman media group: "I believe that free media will continue even if we have to write on the walls. I don't think it is possible to silence media in the digital age."

Police arrived at the newspaper's headquarters with two Turkish- made Toma water-cannon trucks. They advanced military style towards the waiting supporters, firing the freezing water at them.

Using bolt-cutters to unlock the iron gate in front of the building, dozens of police then marched in to seize the headquarters and formally place it under administration, pushing aside anyone who stood in their way, Cihan images showed.

Once the building was cleared, the court-appointed administrators - lawyers Tahsin Kaplan and Metin Ilhan and writer Sezai Sengonul - were bussed in to begin their work, Anatolia said.

Cihan news agency and the English-language daily Today's Zaman - part of the Feza Publications group that owns Zaman - are also affected by the court order.

The United States said the court order was "the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government targeting media outlets and others critical of it".

"We urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in their Constitution, including freedom of speech and especially freedom of the press," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

The EU's Mr Hahn said he was "extremely worried" about the move "which jeopardises progress" made by Turkey in other areas.

He warned on Twitter that Turkey, which is a longstanding candidate to join the European Union, needs to "respect the freedom of the media" and that rights were "not negotiable".

Mr Gulen has been based in the US since 1999, when he fled charges against him laid by the former secular authorities.

Despite living outside of Turkey, he has built up huge influence in the country through allies in the police and judiciary, media and financial interests and a vast network of cramming schools.

Mr Gulen was once an ally of Mr Erdogan but the two fell out.

Ankara accuses Mr Gulen of running what it calls the Fethullahaci Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure and seeking to overthrow the legitimate Turkish authorities.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 06, 2016, with the headline 'Seized Turkish daily prints defiant edition'. Print Edition | Subscribe