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(Istanbul) – An Istanbul court on March 4, 2016 appointed government-controlled trustees to run Turkey’s wide-circulation and critical Zaman newspaper. The ruling, sought by an Istanbul prosecutor, is the latest attempt by Turkey’s president and government to silence critical media.

The appointment of trustees over the Feza Media Group, which includes Zaman newspaper, Today’s Zaman and the Cihan News Agency, amounts to a government takeover of the media group. The government should immediately reverse the action, Human Rights Watch said. On the evening of March 4, police raided the building and used teargas on people who had assembled outside to protest the takeover, television reports showed.

“The Istanbul court’s decision to appoint trustees to run Zaman newspaper and other media is nothing but a veiled move by the president to eradicate opposition media and scrutiny of government policies,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher. “This deplorable ruling, which follows the blocking of two critical TV stations, is the latest blow to free speech in Turkey.”

Istanbul’s 6th Criminal Court of the Peace issued its decision at the request of an Istanbul prosecutor, who is investigating the group for connections with a US-based cleric, Fethullah Gülen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government accuse of terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow the government.

The actions against the Feza Media Group come after the state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) ceased satellite distribution on February 26 of IMC TV at the order of an Ankara public prosecutor investigating the group for links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Bengü Türk TV, a television station close to the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) lost its Türksat distribution on March 1 over alleged financial difficulties.

The court’s decision to appoint trustees to the Feza Media Group follows a similar action in October 2015, when a court appointed trustees to run the Koza İpek Media Group, also associated with Fethullah Gülen supporters. On February 29, the group and its television channels and newspapers were closed down altogether.

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