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Zaman journalist speaks from inside offices of seized newspaper

Photo posted by Zaman journalist Abdullah Bozkurt showing a heavy police presence in the paper’s HQ in Istanbul on March 5, 2015.

A day after the Turkish government seized the country’s biggest newspaper, Zaman, FRANCE 24 spoke to Mustafa Edib Yılmaz, a Zaman journalist working inside the newspaper’s offices now under police control.


Turkish authorities seized control of the country’s largest newspaper on Friday in a widening crackdown on both the free press and supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, an influential friend-turned-foe of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has close links to the newspaper.

A court ruling on March 4 put Zaman and its English-language sister publication Today’s Zaman under state control. They will now be run by a board of court-appointed trustees. Hundreds of people protested the takeover. Police used tear-gas to break up the protests on Friday night and again on Saturday.

The seizure of Zaman occurred just two days before a summit between the European Union and Turkey to forge common action against the migration crisis. Critics have said that the EU, who wants Turkey to do more to fight people smuggling, reduce the number of refugees coming to Europe and to take back failed asylum seekers, is turning a blind eye to Erdogan’s repression of free speech. Erdogan has previously threatened to send "buses of refugees" to Greece if the EU doesn't finalise an action plan with Turkey.

Mustafa Edib Yılmaz is a political scientist and columnist with Zaman. He spoke with FRANCE 24 whilst inside the newspaper offices now under police control.

FRANCE 24: Can you tell me what has been happening today?

The police raided the building at about midnight last night and we were forced to leave the building around 2am, but I would have stayed all night. We wanted to make sure that the police didn’t plant evidence in the building while we were gone because they are accusing us of links to terrorism [Editor’s note: Turkey considers Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet movement a "terrorist" group].

When I came to work this morning, the police were checking IDs and compiling a list of everyone trying to enter the building. I got through but some people were turned away.

Outside of my office window, I can see at least 500 and 600 people, chanting and singing slogans [Editor’s note: The numbers reported by news agencies varied, with some saying that there were up to 2,000]. I was really surprised that they came back after last night. Last night was bad. Our supporters were protesting peacefully but the police were firing water cannons and tear gas like crazy. Some of our staff cried when they saw the supporters. Many of them are our readers. I’m surprised by the diversity of the crowd. It’s not just leftists. I can see conservative women in headscarves out there protesting with five or six-year-old children.

We managed to publish today’s issue before the police arrived yesterday, so today, the protesters are holding it up like a banner. I can hear them shouting for free media.

Since my arrival, I haven’t done any work. As not everyone has been allowed in, there’s a great level of confusion. I honestly have no clue if there will be a newspaper at the end of the day.

FRANCE 24: What do you think of criticism that the EU has not taken a strong enough stand in the wake of the takeover of Zaman?

Remember, Turkey is currently a candidate for EU membership. It is completely inappropriate to see these actions taking place in a candidate country.

There have been some statements from the European commission, saying something along the lines of “we note with high concern”, which is like the dictionary definition of “we are not going to do anything” [Editor’s note: Part of the European Commission’s statement can be found here].

After everything that has happened this weekend, there is going to be a summit between Turkish and EU leaders in two days [about the migration crisis]. There will be handshakes and smiles as if Turkey were still democratic and still living up to its responsibilities as a candidate country.

The EU is much bigger than Turkey, economically and politically, but, for some reason, Turkey seems to be dictating the terms. I can only speculate as to why. I think that the EU is desperately looking for a response to the migration crisis. But I don’t think it will be solved with this meeting alone and, when you turn a blind eye to the ideals that you promised to hold high, then you are destroying yourself.

The lack of interest in this situation has left us feeling isolated and alone, if not betrayed.

FRANCE 24: Since this started yesterday, you’ve been very vocal on Twitter and now you are speaking with us. Are you afraid?

Being afraid is a common thread right now; everyone is afraid. But there is a difference between being afraid and being dissuaded from speaking out. It is important that the outside world sees what’s going on here in Turkey.

When protesters were being tear-gassed last night, there was only one local TV channel there reporting. The only other source of information about it was our internet page. There’s a chance that people who look at the mainstream media may not have seen anything at all. We have to speak because most voices have already been muzzled.


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