Turkish police break gates, storm critical newspaper amid brawls

Turkish riot police stormed headquarters of five critical media outlets in İstanbul shortly after the dawn on Wednesday while reporters of the paper made failed efforts to prevent the police from entering into the building.

“Dear viewers, do not be surprised if you see police in our studio in upcoming minutes,” anchor of Bugun TV, which is one of the seized media outlets, said as he narrated the drama unfolding outside the media company. Hundreds of people, most of them journalists from media outlets affiliated with Koza-İpek Holding, thronged outside the headquarters of the company to protest the seizure of the media outlets.

Mahmut Tanal, a lawmaker with the Republican People’s Party (CHP), tried to negotiate with police chiefs, but the riot police proceeded to enter into the building, where at least five media outlets are operating. Police routinely used pepper spray and frequent brawls erupted as the riot police occupied the building.

A reporter from the newspaper tweeted his bloody hands to show how he was injured while resisting to police occupying his office. Another editor, Fatih Akalan, cried at police outside the building in futile attempts to protest the takeover. A number of reporters just stood outside, with teary eyes, watching a newspaper or a TV channel they worked for years, being taken over by the riot police.

“Look,” another anchor outside the building said, pointing to destroyed gates of the company. “This is the entrance of my office. But now occupied by police.”

Turkish authorities appointed several trustees to replace the management of İpek-Koza Holding business, which houses media outlets including Bugun TV, the flagship station that has emerged as a main platform for opposition politicians over recent months.

The takeover of the management of Koza İpek Holding’s 22 companies, including critical TV stations Bugun TV, Kanalturk and two newspapers, comes just days before Turkey is set to have a repeat parliamentary election on Nov. 1. The move has intensified concerns about the deteriorating state of freedom of speech and of the media in Turkey.

The police tried to clear the way for several trustees to enter into the building, who were appointed by Turkish authorities to take over the company. Only four days left to key parliamentary elections and Bugun TV was supposed to be a major tribune reporting about the elections and candidates.

As of Wednesday morning, the TV channel continued broadcasting critical news reports, mostly giving platform to those condemning the takeover. It is not clear when the TV channel will stop broadcasting.

The brawls and hostile takeover were broadcast live on TV, sending chills across the country and raising concerns if the unusual scenes for democratic countries are set to become a new normal in this country seeking a membership with the European Union.

“Respect for freedom of press is key condition for Turkey’s EU bid. Media situation ahead of important elections is very worrisome,” Kati Piri, European Parliament’s (EP) Turkey Rapporteur, tweeted on Tuesday, joining the chorus of other EU politicians denouncing the move.

Many politicians from the EU, along with other international rights groups, condemned the move. Freedom House described the “politically motivated” takeover as an “act of censorship” that aims to control the public debate and stressed that it underminess fairness of polls. A number of US lawmakers also denounced the takeover of İpek media group.

In Washington, US State State Department spokesman John Kirby urged Turkish authorities to uphold universal democratic values and said they share the same concerns they had before regarding press freedom in Turkey, a reaction that was voiced for a second day straight.