Turkey Takes Over Best-Selling Paper That Became Erdogan Critic

  • Zaman daily published by followers of U.S.-based cleric Gulen
  • Istanbul court appoints trustee to run leading media company

Turkish authorities seized control of the media company that owns the country’s best-selling Zaman newspaper, a one-time supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that became one of his fiercest critics. 

An Istanbul court appointed a trustee on Friday to oversee the company, Feza Gazetecilik AS, after a request from the prosecutor’s office, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported without giving more details. The prosecutor’s office refused to comment on details of the seizure when reached by phone.

Zaman is published by followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blamed for instigating a 2013 corruption probe into the Turkish government that he said was an attempt to overthrow him. The paper’s seizure comes amid a broader crackdown on media, which included the jailing for more than three months of top editors Can Dundar and Erdem Gul of the Cumhuriyet newspaper for reporting on alleged Turkish arms shipments to Syria.

“We’ve just sent our final free issue to be published,” Sevgi Akarcesme, editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, the group’s English-language daily, said by phone from Istanbul on Friday. “Our headline is about us again, and that should give an idea about the kind of democracy in the country. There’s no rule of law left in Turkey.”

Tax Probe

In its Friday edition, Zaman complained of intense pressure from the government over the past two years, saying that its staff weren’t allowed to cover state institutions and that the paper was under scrutiny by tax officials.

It also said that companies and individuals have been urged not to place ads in the newspaper. Dozens of supporters protested the government move outside Zaman’s headquarters in Istanbul’s Yenibosna district on Friday, according to pictures published on the paper’s website. “Zaman can’t be silenced,” read one banner.

The appointment of trustees has been used before by Turkey’s government to change the editorial tone of critical media. Four days before elections last November, trustees were appointed to manage the Koza-Ipek Group, another Gulen-linked company. Under new management, its newspapers and television channels went from being opposition media outlets to ruling-party mouthpieces overnight.

Earlier this week, Koza-Ipek, which also has mining interests, said in a filing to the Istanbul stock exchange that it was discontinuing media operations and terminating contracts with employees in those units.

Boydak Executives

Zaman’s average daily circulation during the week through Feb. 28 was nearly 648,000, about 300,000 higher than its nearest rival, Hurriyet, according to data compiled by media monitoring website Medyatava.

Erdogan has accused Gulen’s followers of infiltrating state institutions, including the police force and judiciary, and trying to overthrow him with fabricated charges of graft, supported by media operations under their influence. Management of an Islamic bank linked to the Gulen movement, Bank Asya, was also seized by the government last year. Once Turkey’s largest Islamic lender, Asya’s market capitalization is about a fifth what it was before Gulen fell out with Erdogan in 2013.

On Friday, police also raided the headquarters of Boydak Holding, an industrial group with more than $2 billion in annual revenue, and detained four of its executives including Chairman Haci Boydak and CEO Memduh Boydak. Former President Abdullah Gul, who hails from Kayseri, Boydak’s hometown, criticized that move.

“I hope they don’t get harmed any more,” he said. “The Boydak family is known for its hard work, honesty and philanthropy. They’re among Turkey’s important industrialists.”

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