The New York Times Editorial Board
If there was any doubt about why the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seized the newspaper Zaman last week, consider this: Within 48 hours after the takeover, the paper began publishing pro-Erdogan propaganda.
Zaman, Turkey’s largest circulation daily, was one of the country’s few opposition media outlets before the police used tear gas and water cannons on Friday to disperse a crowd outside the paper’s headquarters chanting, “Free press cannot be silenced” as it raided the offices. The police acted after a court in Istanbul, without explanation, put the paper under the administration of a panel of trustees.
Before the takeover was complete, the journalists put out a Saturday edition of the newspaper with the headline, “The Constitution Is Suspended.” In the end, the newspaper’s editor was fired and efforts were underway to eradicate the paper’s entire online archive, according to news reports.
The attack on Zaman is no surprise. The paper has been associated with Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Mr. Gulen, once an ally of Mr. Erdogan, broke with the Turkish leader about two years ago and the media group switched from being pro-government to anti-government.
This crackdown is merely the latest of Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian moves, which have included imprisoning critics, sidelining the military and reigniting war on Kurdish separatists. He now controls much of the media and has made Turkey a leader among countries that jail journalists. Along with his campaign to wipe out a free press, his government’s prosecutors have opened nearly 2,000 cases against Turks in the last 18 months for insulting Mr. Erdogan, which is a crime.
Turkey was once on track to be a model Muslim democracy, though it now seems unlikely that Mr. Erdogan ever believed in democratic principles. The fact that he is moving the country ever further from that path raises serious questions about whether Turkey can continue to be a trusted member of NATO, which was founded as a security alliance based on common values.
It is unsettling that the United States and Europe have responded so meekly to Mr. Erdogan’s trampling of a free press. The Obama administration said the move against Zaman was “troubling,” while the European Union said Turkey “needs to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media.”
They may well be muting their criticism in hopes of persuading Turkey to help contain the refugee crisis that is roiling Europe. On Monday, Mr. Erdogan offered a harder stance, setting new demands for his cooperation, including billions more in aid and earlier membership in the European Union for Turkey.
That’s not the approach of an ally, and Mr. Erdogan’s turn toward authoritarianism will not strengthen Turkey, NATO or the European Union.
Published on The New York Times, 7 March 2016, Monday