Far-right violence targets Turkey’s journalists

Journalist Levent Gültekin was attacked on March 8 by two dozen assailants outside his workplace, the latest in a series of violent incidents targeting critics of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Earlier this year, two journalists and a politician were each violently assaulted in the span of 48 hours in the capital city Ankara. One of the journalists, Orhan Uğurluoğlu, a television commentator and Ankara correspondent for the nationalist Yeniçağ newspaper, was set upon outside his home. The attackers warned him to stop criticising the MHP, a junior partner in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.  

According to Utku Çakırözer of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), at least 34 journalists were attacked in 2019, with at least 17 similarly targeted in 2020.

In a soon to be familiar pattern, journalist Sabahattin Önkibar was badly beaten by three assailants outside his home in Ankara shortly after criticising MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli in May 2019.

Earlier that month, Yeniçağ newspaper's columnist Yavuz Selim Demirağ required hospital treatment after being similarly attacked. A bullet had previously been left in his mailbox.  

Demands for an investigation into the assault on Demirağ by the opposition İYİ Party were blocked by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and MHP coalition.

The İYİ Party broke with the MHP in 2017 over the party’s increasing support for Erdoğan, causing a schism in Turkey ultranationalist movement that has increasingly turned violent.  

On Dec. 28, 2019, an attempted assault on Murat İde, a Yeniçağ columnist and press advisor to İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener, failed after he fired into the air with his licensed firearm.

Prior to the attack, İde penned an article for Yeniçağ titled ‘Devlet Bey, I'm tired!"’ which criticised Bahçeli’s leadership of the MHP. No one was arrested following the police investigation into the incident.

Another Yeniçağ columnist Ahmet Takan was attacked with a baseball bat in front of his home in Dikmen, Ankara on Nov. 26, 2019. Again, Takan had criticised Bahçeli. Again, there were no arrests.

Experts say that impunity has paved the way for similar incidents, emboldening the perpetrators by allowing them to go unpunished.

“The increasing attacks on journalists in Turkey, especially in apparent relation to criticism of ultranationalist politicians, are an extremely worrisome trend,” International Press Institute Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavaş said.

“Moreover, the lack of investigation and the resulting impunity show clearly that Turkey’s journalists are not protected by the authorities and that their safety is at risk.”

“Turkish authorities cannot turn a blind eye toward such attacks,” Akyavaş added.

Other opposition parties have also been subjected to violence and intimidation tactics. Workers Party of Turkey (TIP) Deputy Barış Atay was attacked in Istanbul on Aug. 31, 2020 following a public row with Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu.

Future Party Deputy Chairman Selçuk Özdağ was attacked with bats and guns while leaving his home on Jan. 15.  The incident came after shots were fired at the home of Future Party Deputy Ayhan Sefer Üstün the previous month.

The Future Party was founded in December 2019 by former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who left the AKP after falling out with Erdoğan.

In the most notable incident of its kind, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was subject to an attempted lynching while attending the funeral of a soldier in Ankara on April 21, 2019.

Following the incident, Erdoğan’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said the right to protest was protected by Turkey’s constitution.