Fifty-eight journalists representing several media outlets that were recently placed under new management by a court order learned Tuesday that their job contracts were terminated, Hurriyet Daily News reported. The news comes as the dailies and broadcasters, all critical of the government, face an investigation for their ties to a controversial U.S.-based Turkish religious cleric. Supporters of the media outlets, which are owned the Koza Ipek Media Group, have argued that the government interference has amounted to a crackdown on free press.
Supporters have held large protests outside media offices in recent days calling on the government to protect media freedom. Following their forced change in management, the outlets, long critical of the government, adopted overnight an adamantly pro-government editorial policy. A video surfaced late last week showing a newly appointed trustee liberally laying off critical journalists.
The Turkish government has repeatedly been criticized for its suppression of media, and press watchdog groups have documented a stark decline in press freedom over the last five years. Hundreds of websites have been blocked, and the government has routinely blocked Twitter following political controversies.
The news outlets subjected to recent raids and management replacement were aligned with the controversial U.S. based preacher Fethullah Gulen, who the Turkish government has accused of attempting to stage a coup. Gulen leads a highly popular religious movement with thousands of businesses and schools across the world. His media outlets are among Turkey’s most widely read and watched. The government has accused Gulen of wielding power in the country’s judiciary and police force to open a massive fraud probe into the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in late 2013. The leaked tapes tied high-ranking government officials to corruption, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s family and closest circle.
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The government since has waged a wide crackdown on Gulen’s movement in a purported attempt to purge his influence from government institutions. Gulen's supporters deny any manipulative control in places of power. But some 44 regional administrators and former police chiefs said to have been linked to Gulen's movement were detained Tuesday in raids across the country, adding to the thousands of prosecutors and police officers who have already lost their jobs or been arrested in the last two years.
Erdogan, who secured a landslide victory in Parliament Sunday, has rallied much of the country against Gulen’s movement and has targeted popular businesses linked to his religious movement. Government critics accuse Erdogan of exploiting accusations against Gulen to crack down on dissent and reshuffle the country’s judiciary.