Turkish authorities seized control of two opposition news channels ahead of national elections Sunday. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The police arrived about 4 a.m. Wednesday at KanalTurk and Bugun TV television stations’ shared building in Istanbul, breaking chains mounted at the main entrance and using tear gas to disperse protesters who had gathered overnight after news of an impending raid.
After a standoff, authorities sealed off the premises and marched into the control room about 4:30 p.m. to take both channels offline during a joint live broadcast.
“KanalTurk and Bugun TV are going dark today, dear viewers,” saidTarik Toros, Bugun’s editor in chief. The screens then went blank.
The government is alleging the news channels, which have ties to the Gulenist opposition movement, are part of a coup plot—an all-encompassing charge that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP has used before to attack the Gulenist camp and other opposition movements. Since last year, when he cited the supposed “coup” to shrug off corruption allegations, Erdogan has indulged in increasingly widespread conspiracy theories—a strategy which unfortunately resonates in a Turkish political climate obsessed with them.
While this is not the first time the AKP has raided opposition media, the outright thuggery was particularly dramatic this time, with police breaking through fences, using tear gas to disperse protesters, and dragging at least one journalist out in a headlock. Then there’s this bit of Orwellianism:
“As trustees, we will run this organization until there is a new decision,” said Umit Onal, one of the officials taking over Koza Ipek’s media arm, as he marched into Bugun TV’s control room.
“We are now directing this broadcast,” he said, declining to provide an official order when confronted by the channel’s editors about his authority. “You don’t need to see it; we made the decision as the executive committee.”
Sunday’s elections are something of a national “do-over”: when the AKP lost its parliamentary majority in June elections that returned a hung parliament, it cost Erdogan the chance to rewrite the national constitution. So he and AKP Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu refused to enter a coalition, thus precipitating the second round of elections. In the interim, they dramatically increased tensions with the country’s Kurdish minority, in part to drive the Kurdish HDP under the 10 percent threshold for parliament and in part to bring nationalists into their camp. The latest polls suggest they failed in the former respect (HDP stands at 12.2 percent) but may have succeeded a bit in the latter—AKP is up six points from June.
Clearly, however, Erdogan and the AKP are taking no chances, and leaving no stone unturned in the crucial final few days. All of which suggests that, if they don’t get their way Sunday, things could get really ugly indeed—and also, perhaps if they do.