The International Press Institute (IPI) and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) today called on members of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) to condemn yesterday night’s destructive attack on the headquarters of daily newspaper Hürriyet by a crowd of stone-throwing AKP supporters angered by its reporting on a comment by the president.
The groups similarly called for prosecutors to drop a criminal probe initiated against Hürriyet following the attack, which claimed that the daily’s reporting of a controversial remark by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insulted him and “twisted [his] words to conduct a perception operation” against him.
IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said today that “the events of the last 24 hours mark a dangerous escalation in an already troubling campaign of harassment and intimidation targeting independent media in Turkey ahead of the Nov. 1 election.”
He explained: “An important line has been crossed: an online campaign of intimidation targeting a media outlet in Turkey is linked with subsequent actual, physical violence against that outlet in the real world. It’s fortunate that no one was injured yesterday, but the next time we may not be so lucky. AKP leaders should denounce this attack and all those involved, and they should state clearly and strongly that violence is not an acceptable response.”
Ellis also said that the criminal case initiated against Hürriyet made it more likely that Turkey’s voters might not receive the news they need to make fully informed decisions at the polls.
“If this case continues, it sends the message that any journalist in Turkey who reports on something the president says publicly can face criminal charges if the president or his supporters decide they don’t like the manner in which it was presented,” he commented. “That is a chilling message, particularly ahead of an election, and extremely harmful to democracy. We urge prosecutors to drop this case and to focus their attention on real threats: those who use violence to silence people with whom they disagree and those who use technology to incite such attacks.”
Turkish media reported that approximately 150 to 200 protestors who had gathered in front of Hürriyet’s offices in western Istanbul yesterday evening attacked security guards and forced their way through the complex’s outer gate before pelting the front of the office with stones while chanting pro-AKP slogans. The protestors dispersed after riot police arrived, but some sources accused police on the scene of initially failing to intervene.
The attack came after AKP supporters, including one MP, began an online campaign against Hürriyet, claiming the paper misquoted Erdoğan. Threats posted on Twitter reportedly included calls for Hürriyet’s offices to be burned down, referencing the 1993 Sivas attack in which 35 were killed when a mob set fire to a hotel in which an Alevi group had gathered for a cultural festival.
The president, in an interview televised yesterday, said Turkey would not be facing the unrest it has recently experienced had 400 AKP deputies been elected in the June 7 parliamentary election in which the AKP failed to retain its majority. The November polls were called after no government could be formed in the wake of last June’s election and the 400-deputy threshold would pave the way for sweeping constitutional changes Erdoğan has demanded that would centralise much greater power in his office.
Turkey has seen intensifying clashes in recent months between government forces and the outlawed Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK) – which Turkey, the United States and the EU label a terrorist organisation – following the collapse of negotiations to end the PKK’s three-decade-long insurgency. Erdoğan’s comment came in an interview discussing a recent PKK attack on a government convoy in Dağlıca in Turkey’s east, in which 16 soldiers were reportedly killed
Hürriyet published the full text of the interview online and posted on Twitter: “Dağlıca comment from Erdoğan: ‘This would not have happened if 400 deputies had been given.’ ” The newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Sedat Ergin defended the accuracy of paper’s reporting today, although he said the incident had led to an internal discussion on the context in which the report was presented. However, he added: “Let’s assume that our web editor made a mistake. Should the response be to break glass and windows with stones and clubs?”
SEEMO is a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East Europe. SEEMO’s press freedom work is supported by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) project, as part of a grant by the European Commission.