ISTANBUL(VICE News/Reuters) — Turkish authorities have seized control of the Cihan news agency, according to a statement from Cihan, less than a week after they took over the country’s main opposition newspaper.
Cihan said on its website late on Monday an Istanbul court would appoint an administrator to run the agency at the request of a state prosecutor — a move being seen as the latest attempt to crack down on supporters of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, an influential foe of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The seizure of the leading Gulen-linked newspaper, Zaman, on Friday prompted international alarm about press freedom in Turkey and was discussed at Monday’s European Union (EU) summit with Ankara over the migration crisis.
France’s foreign minister said the decision to seize control of Zaman, the country’s largest newspaper by circulation, was “unacceptable” and went against European values. Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Parliament’s liberal bloc, accused the EU of selling its soul by doing a deal with “a country which imprisons journalists, attacks civil liberties, and with a highly worrying human rights situation.”
Both Cihan and Zaman are part of the Feza Gazetecilik media company.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of conspiring to overthrow the government by building a network of supporters in the judiciary, police, and media. Gulen denies the charges.
The two men were allies until police and prosecutors seen as sympathetic to Gulen opened a corruption investigation into Erdogan’s inner circle in 2013.
At the start of March, Turkish authorities shut down media businesses seized last year from Koza Ipek Holding, a conglomerate linked to Gulen.
Freedom of speech has deteriorated drastically in Turkey since 2013 according to monitoring groups. Dozens of journalists have been jailed — including three members of VICE News staff last year, who were ultimately released — alongside dissident activists and bloggers.
During his time as prime minister, Erdogan brought a raft of defamation cases against writers and intellectuals for criticizing him and his policies; since he assumed the presidency in 2013 he’s been doing the same against members of the Turkish public who have used their social media accounts to lambast him.