Turkish authorities have appointed a panel of trustees to take over Cihan, the country’s second largest news agency.
The agency announced the takeover on its website on Monday, only days after the Turkish government seized control of Turkey’s largest newspaper, Zaman, and its English-language sister publication, Today’s Zaman.
“The seizure of the news agency following that of Zaman is another nail in the coffin of journalism in Turkey,” said Yavuz Baydar, founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24). “[The agency] was known for independently monitoring each and every election in Turkey. The real effects of its closure cannot yet be understood neither by the local, nor by the global public.”
On Friday a Turkish court ordered the seizure of Zaman by court-appointed administrators. Before forcing their way into the building, police violently cracked down on protesters who had gathered outside the newspaper offices.
Turkish media report that the trustees appointed to Cihan are the same ones who took control of Zaman last week.
The Cihan news agency is closely linked to the Islamic movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former ally of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development, or AK, party.
The two foes initially clashed over the AKP’s handling of the Kurdish issue and its foreign policy in Syria, before falling out over a corruption scandal that implicated senior government officials and members of Erdoğan’s immediate family.
Erdoğan has accused Gülen of having established a “parallel structure” within crucial state institutions, such as the judiciary and the police, and of wielding considerable influence through his vast media empire. Now labelled a terrorist by the Turkish government, Gülen stands accused of conspiring against Erdoğan and plotting his overthrow, charges that the cleric, who lives in voluntary exile in Pennsylvania, vehemently denies.
The takeover of the Feza Gazetecilik media company, to which Zaman and Cihan both belong, drew international criticism.
At the EU-Turkey summit on Monday, French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault criticised the Turkish government for their latest move against the opposition press, saying that the seizure of Zaman was “not acceptable” and that it contradicted “European values”. Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, also underlined that Turkey should protect freedom of expression.
“[Turkey must] respect the highest standards when it comes to democracy, rule of law, fundamental freedoms, starting with the freedom of expression,” Mogherini said ahead of the summit on Monday.
Human rights groups have also warned that this recent crackdown on yet another independent and opposition media outlet meant a further deterioration of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the country.
“By lashing out and seeking to rein in critical voices, President Erdoğan’s government is steamrolling over human rights,” said Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher for Amnesty International. “A free and independent media, together with the rule of law and independent judiciary, are the cornerstones of internationally guaranteed freedoms which are the right of everyone in Turkey.”
The takeover of Cihan and Zaman follows the same pattern as a government crackdown on the Koza Ipek media group in October last year. The group’s newspaper and television operations have since been shut down entirely.
Turkey ranks 149 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, and more than 15 journalists, most of them Kurdish, are currently in jail. More than 40 others still face prosecution.
“About 1,300 journalists face dismissal after the takeover of Cihan,” Baydar said. “They are following the approximately 2,000 journalists who have gradually been sacked since the Gezi protests. This represents an immense collapse of independent journalism in Turkey. Increasingly all reporting flow into and out of Turkey will be controlled by the Turkish government.”
Published on The Guardian, 8 March 2016, Tuesday