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Dear Prime Minister Davutoğlu,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, international press freedom group, wish to express our dismay at the government's takeover of the Feza media group, which runs the newspapers Zaman and Today's Zaman and the Cihan news agency. We are concerned that this takeover, if not reversed on appeal, will send a chilling message to Turkey's remaining independent and critical journalists.
Since an Istanbul court on Friday ruled that Zaman and Today's Zaman support an alleged terrorist organization and mandated that the government take over their managerial and editorial boards, Turkish officials have sent riot police to enforce the ruling. According to news reports and video footage from outside the news outlets' headquarters in Istanbul, police used tear gas and water cannons against journalists and protesters who gathered to support them.
Following the firing of key editors and critical columnists, Zaman --previously a staunch critic of your government--printed a weekend issue favorable to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his policies. According to news reports and tweets by Today's Zaman journalists, while police were controlling the journalists' entry to the newsroom, the new managers took over the dailies' servers and archives and blocked journalists' access to the newspapers' websites. (On Monday, the court decided that the state's trustees would manage the Cihan news agency as well).
In a statement to the press, quoted by the independent newspaper Hurriyet Daily News on Sunday, you denied that government played any role in these developments, saying that the court ruling was judicial and apolitical and that the case should not be seen as a press freedom violation. "Our government has no bearing in this," you said, as reported by Hurriyet Daily News.
With all due respect, this account is not credible; the zealous conduct of at least two government agencies--the prosecutor's office and the police--suggests the takeover was politicized. Prosecutors undertook the judicial proceedings against Feza media group without any lawyer for the company present in court to dispute the allegations. Police then imposed the ruling with unnecessary brutality.
Sevgi Akarçeşme, Today Zaman's chief editor, told CPJ that the staff learned of the ruling from news reports. The state-appointed board fired journalists even though the news outlets have had no opportunity to appeal the takeover. Furthermore, the raid on Feza media group follows a similar move in October against another company, Koza Ipek, which also owned news outlets critical of your government, which have since been shut down.
Mr. Prime Minister, when you met with a CPJ delegation in 2014, you promised to uphold press freedom in Turkey and defend the rights of journalists. Instead, press freedom is under siege, with increasing numbers of journalists in jail, violence against journalists on the rise, and critical news outlets officially harassed or obstructed.
We call on you to fulfill your commitment to support press freedom, defend Turkey's Constitution, and ensure that your country meets its commitments under international law, including its commitments to free expression.
CPJ Executive Director
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey
Bekir Bozdağ, Turkey's Minister of Justice
Serdar Kılıç, Turkey's Ambassador to the United States
John Bass, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey
John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State
Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Stavros Lambrinidis, EU Special Representative for Human Rights
Elma Brok, chair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
Published on Committee to Protect Journalists, 8 March 2016, Tuesday