Overnight both freedom of press and democracy officially died in Turkey, with time of death just before midnight, when Turkish authorities stormed the Zaman daily, a newspaper staunchly opposed to president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and after using tear gas and water cannon they seized its headquarters in a dramatic raid that raised fresh alarm over declining media freedoms.
The police used water cannon late 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 details: shortly before midnight, a team of police arrived with two Turkish-made TOMA water cannon trucks. They advanced military style towards the waiting supporters, firing the freezing water directly at them. Using bolt-cutters to unlock the iron gate in front of the building, dozens of police then marched into the premises 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 inside the complex to begin their work, Anatolia said.
The clash in front of the Zaman headquarters is captured in the clip below:
The swoop caused immediate concern in Washington and Brussels amid the intensifying worries over the climate for freedom of expression in Turkey. EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said he was "extremely worried". However, the concern is clearly not big enough to threaten Turkey with expulsion from NATO and certainly not big enough to demand those $3 billion back which was given to Turkey to "fight" the refugee crisis and instead was promptly embezzled by the ruling regime.
As AFP adds, Zaman, closely linked to 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. Hundreds of supporters then gathered outside its headquarters awaiting the arrival of bailiffs and security forces after the court order.
"Democracy will continue and free media will not be silent," Zaman's editor-in-chief Abdulhamit Bilici was quoted as saying by the Cihan news agency just before the police raid.
"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," he told Cihan, part of the Zaman media group.
Don't be so sure: the Cihan news agency and the Today's Zaman English language daily - which are also part of the Feza Publications group that owns Zaman - and are also affected by the court order.
Ironically, the raid on Zaman comes as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu heads to Brussels Monday for a crucial summit meeting with EU leaders. The news of the court decision broke as Erdogan was holding talks in Istanbul with EU President Donald Tusk. We doubt that any of Europe's "leaders" will fail to appear at the summit despite the presence of the now official Turkish despot: after all Turkey is instrumental to stemming the tsunami of refugees, something Erdogan knows very well and is milking for billions of dollars in bribers, pardon, "state aid."
Erdogan's crackdown against the Zaman is merely the latest act in his ongoing crusade against his nemesis who lives in the US, preacher Fethullah Gulen, and whom Erdogan has accused ot essentially creating a parallel republic. There is, of course, no such thing but Erdogan gladly uses the strawman to blame anything that goes wrong in Turkey on Gulen's "parallel state."
Ankara now accuses Gulen of running what it calls the Fethullahaci Terror Organisation/Parallel State Structure (FeTO/PDY) and seeking to overthrow the legitimate Turkish authorities. Anatolia said the court order was issued on the grounds that Zaman supported the activities of this "terror organisation".
There have been numerous legal crackdowns on structures linked to the group and on Friday Turkish police arrested four executives of one of the country's largest conglomerates, accusing them of financing Gulen. Gulen supporters decry the accusations as ridiculous, saying all he leads is a more informal group known as Hizmet (Service).
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The effective seizure of the newspaper by the state added to concerns over freedom of expression in Turkey under Erdogan's rule. The daily Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul were released on an order from Turkey's top court last week after three months in jail on charges of publishing state secrets. But they still face trial on March 25.
Erdogan's crackdown on the freedom of speech is so vast, that as of this moment almost 2,000 journalists, bloggers and ordinary citizens, including high school students, have found themselves prosecuted on accusations of insulting Erdogan.
This latest overnight raid on free spech was so brazen, even the U.S. felt compelled to say something about its erstwile mid-east ally and the country which funds and supports ISIS.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby 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." He added that "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."
Europe also chimed in when EU enlargement commissioner Johannes 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 long-standing candidate to join the European Union, needs to "respect the freedom of the media" and rights were "not negotiable".
Well it appears they are, especially if Turkey has the most important bargaining chip of all: the future of the European Union, because should the US or the EU antagonize Erdogan too much, he will merely unleash the spigot of Muslim refugees entering Europe leading to the inevitable implosion of the European "Union" just a few months later.
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Finally, here are some additional thoughts from investigative historian Eric Zuesse who writes that...
Democracy Ends in Turkey
On Saturday March 5th, Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten (German Economic News) headlined “Turkish Police Storm Newspaper Office Zaman” and reported that, “Turkish police entered the editorial offices of critical newspaper Zaman on Friday night.” Accompanying videos there showed a police-state in which ‘security’ forces stormed through a crowd of protesters (readers of the newspaper) outside, into Turkey’s leading opposition newspaper, which is also Turkey’s leading English-language newspaper, Zaman, and arrested staffers there, taking them away, to who-knows-what fates.
There’s nothing like Zaman in just about any country: for examples, the New York Times, Washington Post, London Times, and Guardian, aren’t “opposition newspapers,” though they used to cover the opposition in a moderately fair way, prior to the George W. Bush Administration, 9/11, and “regime change in Iraq.” By contrast, Zaman has constantly been very bold in exposing truths that the regime doesn’t want the public to know. But that’s all past history now — it’s at least as radical a change for Turkey as occurred in America with the Bush regime, which controlled the media as effectively as its successor-regime, Obama’s, has done, and which never needed to employ such blatantly police-state methods as Turkey now is clearly doing.
On Thursday March 4th, Tayyip Erdo?an, the Islamist President of U.S. ally and NATO member-nation Turkey, took over Zaman or Today’s Zaman, where the headline on Friday was: "Court appoints trustees to take over management of Zaman, Today’s Zaman.” Until after that report was filed, this was only a court matter, not a blatantly police-state one — using physical forms of force, including armed ‘security’ forces inside, and water-cannons against demonstrators outside.
Here was that Zaman news-report’s opening:
An ?stanbul court has appointed trustees to take over the management of the Feza Media Group, which includes Turkey’s biggest-selling newspaper, the Zaman daily, as well as the Today’s Zaman daily and the Cihan news agency, dealing a fresh blow to the already battered media freedom in Turkey.
The decision was issued by the ?stanbul 6th Criminal Court of Peace at the request of the ?stanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, which claimed that the media group acted upon orders from what it called the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY),” praising the group and helping it achieve its goals in its publications.
The prosecutor also claimed that the alleged terrorist group is cooperating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist organization to topple the Turkish government and that high-level officials of the two groups have had meetings abroad.
The court decision means that the entire management and the editorial board of Feza Media Group companies will be replaced by the three-member board named by the court.
Turkey’s existing conservative regime is typical of conservative governments in using ‘national security’ rationalizations as excuses for clamping down against the public, supposedly in order to ‘protect’ the public. However, the ‘democratic’ gloss over the transition of a democratic government into a dictatorial one can do nothing to maintain as being true the supposition that the nation is a democracy instead of (now) a dictatorship.
The specific ‘national security’ context behind today’s clamp-down and end of democracy in Turkey, is that the Zaman operations were owned by Erdo?an's enemy, Fethullah Gülen, who had self-exiled to an estate in Pennsylvania after objecting to the Islamicization of Turkey’s government under Erdo?an. Gülen is no ‘secularist,’ but he came to insist upon a separation between church-and-state, so that there will be no favoritism by the government toward any clergy, and thus no favoritism by the clergy toward any government or political party. In other words: Gülen preaches a relatively progressive version of Islam.
By contrast: Erdo?an has, consistently since he first entered politics, moved Turkey more and more toward a standard Sunni dictatorship, aligned with the Saud family, who own Saudi Arabia, and who hold authority over Islam’s two holiest sites: Mecca and Medina. Their Islamic sect is called Wahhabism inside Saudi Arabia, and Salafism outside Saudi Arabia. The founder was Mohammed Ibn Wahhab in 1744, when he swore a mutual oath with the gang-lord Muhammad Ibn Saud, for Saud’s descendants to control the government, and for Wahhab’s preachers to instruct the faithful that the Sauds have God’s blessing to rule. Under this agreement, Wahhab’s preachers determine the laws, based upon the strictest-possible interpretation of the Quran, which therefore functions as Saudi Arabia’s Constitution, while the Wahhabist preachers constitute the legislative and judicial branches of the Saud-led government, who are the executive branch — the Saud-clan’s leaders.
Outside Saudi Arabia, the sect is called “Salafist,” meaning that they derive their authority from their ancestors. This feature authorizes royal rule, because royal dictators achieve their ‘right’ to rule on the basis of whom their ancestors were (i.e., their parents, going ultimately back to some founder who was a conquerer). For this reason, all of the Arabic royal families are Salafists. Inside Saudi Arabia, the Saud family are Wahhabists (the Saudi version of the Salafist sect).
The continued membership by Turkey in NATO would mean that there is a NATO that no longer has any vestige of justification for continued existence after the end, in 1991, of communism, of the USSR, and of the Warsaw Pact. Democracy no longer survives as even a vestigial excuse for its continuation.
NATO, from now on, is just a gang of nations whose aristocracies crave to conquer the world’s most resource-rich nation: Russia. (It’s done by picking off, one-by-one, Russia’s former allied nations and bringing them into the NATO gang.) The U.S. and Saud family, and Erdo?an family, as well as the other Arabic royal families, and the controlling investors in U.S. and allied weapons-manufacturers, etc., constitute the chief beneficiaries of continuing NATO, but the conquest of Russia is not at all the primary goal of the residents in NATO-member nations. In fact, it’s not a goal that’s even talked about in their ‘elections.’ If those nations were democracies, they’d abandon NATO, as being representative of dictatorship over them all, not of democracy, in any nation.
But we’re all dictatorships now.