Turkey Shrugs Off Condemnation Of Takeover Of Opposition Newspaper
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This is a day to think of politics around the world, from the United States presidential campaign with all of its strengths and weakness on display, to the meeting of China's People's National Congress, to Turkey. Last weekend, police cleared out the offices of a Turkish newspaper called Zaman, which abruptly changed from criticizing to supporting the president. Here's NPR's Peter Kenyon.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Early Monday morning, the Zaman website was down with a notice saying it would return when it was able to bring unbiased service to readers. But anyone picking up a hard copy of the paper would be surprised by the change in tone. Gone are the reports on alleged government commercial and human rights abuses. Instead, the front page leads with a piece about growing support for Erdogan's AK party. Another story proclaims the engineering wonders behind a nearly completed third bridge crossing the Bosporus Strait. Turks looking for anything harder hitting will have to search elsewhere. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denies any political motivation behind the takeover, saying the government must pursue allegations of criminal violations by the paper, including money laundering. But he also claims that the editor's goals were political.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER AHMET DAVUTOGLU: (Through interpreter) We will not interfere with the judicial process. Turkey is a country of laws. But as a democratic law-abiding country, Turkey has the right to question those who are involved in the effort to overthrow the government.
KENYON: The paper is linked to the Hizmet movement founded by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who's lived for years in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Once a powerful ally of Erdogan, Gulen now stands accused of fomenting a coup. And Erdogan has repeatedly called, without success, for his extradition. The falling out burst into public view in late 2013, when prosecutors said to be supporters of Gulen launched a sweeping corruption probe that implicated Erdogan's family and caused cabinet ministers to resign. Prosecutors were reassigned, the investigation shelved, and Zaman's editorial tone became strongly antigovernment. The actual takeover Friday night featured dramatic scenes of journalists and other supporters of Zaman engulfed by tear gas and battered by high-pressure water cannon spray as riot police cleared the way for the court-appointed trustees to assume control of the paper. The takeover further reduces the small number of independent and opposition media outlets in Turkey, to the dismay of press freedom and human rights groups. Turkey ranks in the bottom quarter of 180 countries surveyed in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index for 2015. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.