A court in Turkey decided on March 4 to place Zaman, the largest-circulation newspaper in the country, under government control. Turkish police had previously arrested the managing editor of the paper without understandable reasons and searched the media outlet's headquarters.
A semi-governmental media outlet reported that the legal grounds for placing Zaman under government control were the allegations that the paper may have supported a terrorist organization. What the news organization calls "a terrorist organization," led by moderate Muslim leader Fethullah Gulen, is alleged to be working with a Kurdish militant group in an attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.
Zaman has continually criticized the government, but it is unjustifiable to use public authority to suppress the newspaper. If the media outlet is suspected of supporting a terrorist organization, the court should clarify the details, but it has failed to go through such a procedure.
On the night of March 4, shortly after the court handed down the decision, thousands of citizens gathered in front of Zaman headquarters in Istanbul and police responded by spraying tear gas and water to disperse the demonstrators.
Many citizens put up placards saying, "Don't intervene in our newspaper." Nevertheless, police forces stormed into the paper's head office and expelled the managing editor and others.
The managing editor angrily described the incident as "a dark chapter in Turkish history," and called March 4 "a dark day that stained democracy."
In 2014, Turkish police arrested the managing editor of the paper and others on suspicion of publishing a speech by Gulen, who is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's archrival. Relations between those in power and news organizations in a country are a key index with which the maturity of its society is gauged. Whether those in power are suppressing media outlets and whether news organizations are exercising self-restraint in criticizing the government also shows such maturity.
The latest incident demonstrated once again that Turkey, a major power in the Middle East, still has serious problems in this regard. (By Tomoko Oji, Jerusalem Bureau)