Saturday, March 12, 2016

Erdoğan's take-over of Zaman needs our attention

The press has been curiously muted in its reporting of the recent government take-over of the influential Turkish newspaper, Zaman. Zaman was, and I suppose still is, Turkey's biggest and best-selling newspaper. It was also - but is no longer - openly critical of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
On March 4th, an Erdoğan-appointed Turkish court ruled that the newspaper should be run by "appointed trustees". Within hours, police used teargas and rubber bullets to intimidate and ultimately remove protesters who had gathered in front of the newspaper's offices, and they then forced their way into the building to raid the offices. The next day, the newspaper's staff arriving for work had to enter the building under tight police control.
The Turkish government is insisting that the move was not political, but Sunday's edition of the paper notably toed the government line, and the editor-in-chief of Zaman's English language sister paper has tweeted that: "In less than 48 hours, the new admin turned seized Zaman into a propaganda piece of the regime in Turkey". Former Zaman staff have since set up a new newspaper, called Yarina Bakis, meaning "look towards tomorrow".
The action seems to be just another heavy-handed move by Erdoğan to consolidate power and clamp down on any political opposition since his last election in November 2015. Soon after that election, the moderate news magazine Nokta was closed down and its editors imprisoned for "fomenting armed rebellion" (in reality, for criticizing Mr. Erdoğan's authoritarian approach). The most outspoken columnists from the newspaper Milliyet have also been fired or silenced, and some TV stations have been unapologetically shut down. In fact, more than 1,800 people have been arrested in the past year on charges of "insulting the president", which apparently constitutes an indictable charge in today's Turkey.
Like it or not, Turkey is an essential part of the puzzle in opposing the Islamic State in Syria, and in dealing with the Syrian migrant disaster. With this very much in mind, the EU in particular is treating the country with kid gloves and offering all sorts of financial sweeteners and offers of expedited entry in the EU. An increasingly psychotic Erdoğan is using this goodwill to establish something approaching a dictatorship in Turkey, and to also pursue his own anti-Kurd agenda after he himself suddenly and mysteriously abandoned his quite successful unity-building efforts back in 2013.
Whatever Erdoğan's motives, though, this kind of body blow to press and media freedom is not something the world should condone, or even conveniently ignore.

No comments: