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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 15th July 2016 > SILENCED MAJORITY

SILENCED MAJORITY

TURKEY’S PRESIDENT IS SHOWING THE WORLD HOW TO STOMP OUT FREE SPEECH

Sevgi Akarçeşme made sure she arrived at work early on the day her Istanbul office was swarmed by riot police. “[President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan had made it clear he was going after us,” says the former editor of Today’s Zaman, an English-language newspaper that had been highly critical of Turkey’s president and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). On March 3, someone who goes by the name “Fuat Avni,” an increasingly unreliable whistleblower active on social media, had declared that a raid was imminent on the Zaman newspaper, owned by Feza Publications, which also owns Today’s Zaman and the Cihan News Agency. This time, Avni was right.

“That night, I couldn’t sleep. I knew it was a matter of hours,” recalls Akarçeşme. “So I went to the office before dawn—my colleagues were already there. We had breakfast together and started waiting. The official court decision [to seize the media group] arrived at 3 p.m. We realized we had to push for an early print that day, no matter how incomplete, so we went to print with only eight pages.”

The front page of the last non-censored Today’s Zaman was black, with the headline in huge white letters: “Shameful Day for Free Press in Turkey.” As the news broke, readers of Today’s Zaman and its sister paper Zaman—at the time the most widely read paper in Turkey—gathered in the hundreds outside the group’s offices to protest.

“Around 10 p.m., we heard a brawl outside the building,” says Akarçeşme. “Police had cut the steel chains on the doors, which some staff had put up in protest.”

Some Zaman staff began live-tweeting the raid as police forced them from their offices and fired rubber bullets at protesters. Akarçeşme tried to film what was happening on Periscope, the live video-streaming app, but a police officer grabbed her phone.

Akarçeşme knew right away that her job was in jeopardy under the trustees appointed by the government to oversee the seized media group, which was charged with unspecified “terrorist activities” by Judge Fevzi Keleş. “I figured that it was a matter of time before [Zaman editors] were banned from leaving the country or arrested on terrorist charges,” she says.

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About Newsweek International

Can Europe Save Itself? - On the morning after the Brexit vote, a dazed Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, a body consisting of the heads of government of the 28 countries in the European Union, was asked to react to the historic vote. Ironically, he quoted Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century philosopher whose work influenced the rise of German militarism that led to two world wars - the conflagrations the EU was designed to prevent from happening again. “What doesn’t kill you,” Tusk proclaimed, “makes you stronger.”
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