Opposition parties are outraged after Turkish police raided the headquarters of dissendent media four days before elections. Riot police pepper sprayed protesting lawyers as thousands of police lined the street and broke down the gates of Bugun TV and Kanalturk. A small crew kept broadcasting until the service was shut down. Several reporters were injured as they were handcuffed and escorted from the building.
The raid came two days after a ruling to replace the media group's board of trustees with handpicked choices, including relatives of the ruling AK Party. Koza Ipek Holding is owned by Fetullah Gulen, leader of an Islamic social movement against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The same building was raided in September in search of documents that were already submitted.
Numerous journalists have been detained and deported during Erdogan's term, at an escalating rate since snap elections were announced in August. The editor-in-chief of Gulen's English-language daily Today's Zaman, Bulent Kenes, was arrested on Oct. 9 for "insulting" Tweets and released a week later. Dozens of journalists from its Turkish equivalent, which consistently publishes articles critical of the government, were arrested in a raid in December for supporting a "parallel state."
In solidarity with their colleagues, the papers of Koza Ipek Holding ran black front pages on Wednesday with the headline, "A dark day for our democracy, for our freedom and for Turkey." The new trustees stopped publication of Thursday issues.
Last week, a joint international emergency press freedom mission held a press conference in Turkey in light of increasing media repression. Journalists, human rights groups and politicians expressed that the raid was illegal, threatened democracy and European Union accession and distracted from the political issues at hand in the elections. Turkey is already ranked as the 149th country out of 180 in the press freedom index. Some were also present during the raid, protesting and trying to stop police from entering the building. Later, water cannons dispersed crowds, they gathered around banners in front of the building that read, "We will not be silent." Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish HDP, visited the TV stations during a live broadcast.
“This is not a coup against freedom of information of (only) the İpek Media Group, but rather of the (whole of) society,” he said.
On Tuesday, Erdogan's former adviser Aydin Unal said that more opposition newspapers would receive court orders. Currently, the ruling AK Party receives significantly more air time than the other parties. If the AK Party wins an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections on Sunday, Erdogan would be able to change the constitution to a presidential system.