Turkish police raid opposition Zaman daily HQ, unleash tear gas & water cannon on protesters

Turkish police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse crowds protesting outside the headquarters of the opposition Zaman newspaper. They moved in to secure the premises following a government decision to take over the management of the media group.

Part of the crowd have taken cover inside of the building, as riot police moved in on protesters.

After clearing their way through the crowd in front of the newspaper’s HQ, the officers pushed their way inside the building.

“Throw him off the staircase!” one of the officers allegedly shouted, as the raid squad pushed one of the publication’s employees down to the hall, according to a tweet written by a Zaman employee.

Zaman Editor-in-Chief Sevgi Akarcesme said that during the raid she was pushed by police as authorities tried to take her out of the building.

“A police officer grabbed my phone forcefully while I was broadcasting on Periscope. I'll sue him when the rule of law is back. Unbelievable!” she tweeted. “This is beyond comprehension! Such a sad day in Turkey!”

The daily confirmed that police had gone to the management floor in the building, and were preventing editors from entering their offices. The journalists were shut out of their offices while police allegedly confiscated their cell phones, according to reports on social media.

The raid began shortly before midnight after a day of standoffs between police and opposition protesters furious about what they call a government crackdown on the free press.

The biggest opposition publication is being accused by the state of alleged links to America-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of attempting to topple the regime.

The decision by Istanbul 6th Criminal Court of Peace to de facto censor the publication was granted after the request of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, that accused the publication of taking orders from what it called the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETO/PDY).”

The prosecutor said that the alleged terrorist group is working together with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with the aim of toppling the Turkish government.

To remedy the so-called “terrorist threat,” the court ruled to sack the entire management and the editorial team of Feza Media Group companies and to replace the entire group’s administration with a three-member board appointed by the state court.

Following the court ruling the newspaper editorial team released a statement through its English-language sister publication, Today's Zaman, calling the takeover the “darkest and gloomiest” for the freedom of the press.

READ MORE: Court orders Turkish Zaman daily into administration, raising concerns of free press abuse

The statement added that “media organizations and journalists are being silenced via threats and blackmail.”

After the ruling, hundreds of people gathered outside the newspaper's offices in Istanbul protesting against the move, before police fired tear gas at protesters as they stormed the head office building.

Turkey not ‘in keeping with healthy democratic values’ – State Dept.

Amnesty International has condemned the move to silence the opposition press.

“By lashing out and seeking to rein in critical voices, President Erdogan’s government is steamrolling over human rights,” said Andrew Gardner from Amnesty International’s Turkey.

Even Washington, while reaffirming Turkey’s crucial role as a NATO member and US ally in the region, had to admit that the Turkish government’s recent actions are not fully consistent with the spirit of “democracy.”

“We see this as the latest in the series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish government targeting media outlets and others critical of it…We call on the Turkish government to ensure full respect for due process and equal treatment under the law. Court-ordered supervision of a media company’s finances and operations should not prompt changes to the newsroom or editorial policy,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said, reading from a prepared statement.

“We don’t think that these sorts of actions are in keeping with the healthy democratic values,” Toner told RT's Gayane Chichakyan. “As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally – and we do count ourself as a friend of Turkey and we certainly are a NATO ally – we urge Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values enshrined in their own constitution.”