Defiant staff at an opposition newspaper taken over by Turkish authorities have published articles censored by the new management on a freshly launched website, as international criticism of the government's crackdown on press freedom mounted. TurkishMinute.com appeared online days after a court ordered administrators seize command of Turkey's largest circulation newspaper, Zaman, and its sister English-language publication, Today's Zaman.
The new portal carried a series of pieces that it said trustees refused to publish on Today's Zaman 7 March edition. Today's Zaman editor Sevgi Akarcesme wrote on Twitter:
The censored articles included three columns, a reaction piece on the takeover, a report on the arrest of two business executives tied to the opposition and an article on the police's alleged excessive use of force on female protesters.
Zeynep Karatas, who penned the article on the crushing of the International Women's Day demonstration, said she had unsuccessfully attempted to upload her work on the newspaper internal system but discovered the next morning that the dedicated space had been taken up by a piece exalting the government for the construction of a third bridge across the Bosphorus.
The Today's Zaman website has not been updated since 5 March.
The creation of Turkish Minute was promoted on social media including Today's Zaman Twitter account, which was reset with a new description reading "This newspaper has been seized by the Turkish government."
It followed the launch of another newspaper produced by defecting Zaman journalists, the paper-based (Look to Tomorrow) that hit the newsstands on 6 March. On its first issue, the Turkish-language publication splashed with front page images of police raiding Zaman's headquarters, using teargas and water cannons to disperse protesters.
It stood in stark contrast with the editorial line adopted by Zaman after the takeover. The new management also chose to open its first issue with pro-government articles praising the progress on the new bridge construction.
The court gave no reason for its decision to replace the newspapers' management with a panel of trustees, which is seen as part of a feud between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his former ally Fethullah Gulen, an influential cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
Zaman's parent company Feza is tied to Gulen's Hizmet (service) movement, which has a worldwide network of private schools, media outlets and charities and exerted influence within the Turkish police and judiciary.
In 2013 Erdogan accused the Gulen of orchestrating a wide-reaching corruption scandal that shook the government. The movement has since been branded a terrorist organisation, despite no evidence of its involvement in violent actions, and many of its affiliates have been purged or indicted. Gulen himself has been put on trial in in absentia on accusations of attempting to topple the government.
Meanwhile the EU added to the chorus of criticism enraged by the newspaper's appropriation. The EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini urged Ankara to "respect the highest standards when it comes to democracy, rule of law fundamental freedoms starting from the freedom of expression", ahead of a migration crisis summit with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.