Turkish Police Storm TV Channels Linked to Erdogan Foe Gulen

by Alastair Jamieson /

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Police stormed the offices of two opposition television channels in Turkey Wednesday, a move rights groups called "censorship" just days before an election.

The raids were part of a crackdown on companies linked to a U.S.-based cleric and foe of President Tayyip Erdogan.

Image:
Riot police force their way through a gate to enter the headquarters of opposition television stations and newspapers in Istanbul, Turkey, on Wednesday.Usame Ari / AP

Cops sprayed water cannon to disperse crowds in front of the offices of Kanalturk and Bugun TV in Istanbul, a live broadcast on Bugun's website showed.

The media groups are owned by Koza Ipek Holding, which has links to Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. The authorities on Tuesday took over 22 companies owned by Koza Ipek in an investigation of alleged financial irregularities, including whether it funded Gulen. The company denies wrongdoing.

Mahir Zeynalov, Washington bureau chief for Gulen-linked Today’s Zaman newspaper, said that his chief editor Bulent Kenes had been beaten by police. Zaynalov also posted a picture of another co-worker being dragged away by officers.

Injured reporters posted pictures of their bloodied "Press" cards on social media.

Erdogan has clamped down on commercial interests belonging to once-influential followers of Gulen, his former ally, after police and prosecutors considered sympathetic to the cleric opened a corruption investigation of Erdogan's inner circle in 2013.

Legal action against more opposition newspapers, including the nationalist Sozcu newspaper, is planned for after the vote, said Aydin Unal, a lawmaker in the ruling AK Party.

"After Nov. 1, we will hold them accountable. Sozcu newspaper insults us every day," Unal, a former Erdogan adviser, told A Haber channel on Tuesday. "There is a lot of pressure on Turkey. If we say something, the world accuses us of interfering with the press, so we're not in a comfortable position now, but after Nov. 1 we will settle up with all of them."

Rights groups questioned the move against opposition media outlets so close to an election.

"The government's seizure of Koza Ipek undermines the fairness of the Nov. 1 parliamentary elections," Robert Herman of Freedom House said in an e-mailed statement, calling the takeovers of the media firms "censorship."

Anne Brasseur, president of the Parliamentary Association of the Council of Europe, said she was “deeply worried” by the developments, adding: “Media independence [is] of utmost importance for free and fair elections.”

A prosecutor is seeking a prison sentence of up to 34 years for Gulen on allegations that he ran a "parallel" structure within state institutions that sought to topple Erdogan. He has led Turkey — first as prime minister, then president — since 2003.

Gullen, 74, has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.

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