Turkey’s largest-circulation newspaper has adopted a pro-government line in its first edition since a court ordered it to be seized in a controversial decision.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Istanbul, said the Turkish-language Zaman had changed its editorial tone drastically.
The top story on Sunday described how President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended a ceremony marking a key phase in the construction of a bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
“If anyone was wondering if there were going to be serious changes to the tone or editorial stance of Zaman, well they got their answer on Sunday morning,” he said.
Zaman’s website was offline, with a message that read: “We will provide you, our readers, with a better quality and more objective service as soon as possible.”
The website of the English-language Today’s Zaman, which was also confiscated, featured stories about the takeover and the European Union’s critical response but had not been updated since Saturday.
Police stormed the offices on Friday to enforce a court decision to place it and its sister outlets under the management of trustees.
The court appointed an administrator to run Zaman, Today’s Zaman and the Cihan agency.
The step prompted two days of protests which riot police dispersed using tear gas and water cannon.
About 50 people stood outside of the paper’s Istanbul offices again on Sunday to protest against the takeover, witnesses said.
The atmosphere was calm, however.
Employees returned to the newsroom on Saturday to work under the new administrator, but Abdulhamit Bilici, Zaman’s editor-in-chief, and Bulent Kenes, a columnist, were fired and escorted from the premises, said Sevgi Akarcesme, top editor at Today’s Zaman.
Rights groups and European officials have criticised the takeover, saying it infringed on press freedom in Turkey, an EU candidate country.
En route to Brussels to attend an EU meeting, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, rejected that charge, saying a legal process was under way to investigate illicit financing of a “terrorist” organisation and that there had been no political interference.
Zaman was linked to Erdogan’s rival, the US-based Muslim leader Fethullah Gulen. Its takeover is part of a wider state crackdown on his religious movement.
The court ruling came at the request of a prosecutor investigating Gulen on terrorism charges, state media said.
Prosecutors have accused Zaman and its affiliates of praising and helping what they called a “terrorist organisation”.
Erdogan and Davutoglu accuse Gulen of plotting to topple their government in 2013 after police suspected of belonging to the religious movement leaked a corruption investigation into Erdogan’s family and ministers.
Erdogan accuses Gulen of building a network of supporters in the judiciary, police and media.
Gulen has denied the allegations.
“There is some obvious evidence that they [Gulen and Zaman] are linked to many international organisations,” Yasin Aktay, a member of Turkey’s ruling AK party, told Al Jazeera.
“And Zaman newspapers and others are part of this coordination with this apparatus.”
Aktay rejected allegations about media intolerance on the part of the Turkish government.
“There is no intolerance in Turkey about media criticism. [There’s] probably more than 60 or 70 percent of the media in Turkey against the government and the government is tolerating them,” he said.