Attacks mount on the free Turkish press

Attacks mount on the free Turkish press

Ahmet Hakan Coşkun, one of Turkey’s most influential columnists and TV commentators, was severely beaten by four people in front of his house in Istanbul on Oct. 1, right after completing his debate show, “The Neutral Zone,” on CNNTürk. The attackers have been detained by the police, with at least one of them an infamous Twitter personality who trolls users who are critical of the government. It appears that they were using a hired car and chased Coşkun from the CNNTürk building to his house for over 20 kilometers.

Both CNNTürk and daily Hürriyet, which Ahmet Hakan Coşkun writes for, are part of the Doğan Media Group, like the Hürriyet Daily News that you are reading right now. The attack of Coşkun was the third physical attack on Hürriyet in the past month – all of which came following remarks against the media group, either by President Tayyip Erdoğan or by the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, which is not evidence itself that the attacks were inspired by them but nevertheless presents a pattern.

The leading figure in the first attack on Sept. 6 was an AK Parti member of parliament, Abdurrahim Boynukalın, who is also the head of the party’s youth branch. The second on Sept. 8 was led by a group calling themselves “The Ottoman Hearths,” whose ties were later denied by the AK Parti. 

In both attacks, damage was caused to the Hürriyet’s Istanbul headquarters, a compound which is also shared by CNNTürk. After the second attack, a video recording hit the web showing Boynukalın making brutal jokes to a group of friends saying they had actually done wrong by not intimidating the likes of Ahmet Hakan Coşkun and Sedat Ergin (the editor-in-chief of Hürriyet) by beating them up, adding that he was personally thinking of going to the house of Coşkun to make him afraid.

On Sept. 11, Vuslat Doğan Sabancı, the chairwoman of Hürriyet, said in a public statement, while joined by Doğan Media Group journalists and employees, that Hürriyet was “not afraid of” the attacks. There, she also said Hürriyet writers, reporters and Doğan family members had been receiving serious threats of more violence and that both the government and legal authorities should take precautions.

Following that statement, on Sept. 14, Coşkun applied to the Istanbul Governor’s Office and asked for police protection due to the serious threats he had been receiving. When he was attacked just after midnight on Oct. 1, 17 days after his application, he was still waiting for a response from the governor’s office. 

It is not clear whether the attackers were inspired by a statement by President Erdoğan a day before when he once again slammed Aydın Doğan, the founder of the Doğan Media Group, for manipulating governments in the past, even though it is something that Doğan has denied numerous times.

What Doğan Sabancı was talking about when she mentioned threats were not only Twitter trolls who are not very easy to follow, but also pro-government commentators in pro-government newspapers and TV stations who have continued their insults and threats – including statements to Coşkun like “If we want, we could smash you like a fly. If you are still alive, it is because of our mercy” by Cem Küçük.  So far, no probe has been opened by prosecutors despite numerous applications by lawyers to courts about insults and threats of violence against the Doğan Group and its members. 

There was still no condemnation or expression of sorrow by either the president or the PM by 6 p.m. on Oct. 1 as this article was being completed. Are political and legal authorities waiting for something worse to happen before taking steps?

Turkey is going to a re-election on Nov. 1 amid a tense atmosphere with the resumption of acts of terror that have widened the political polarization in the country. 

The attacks on independent media which refuse to become part of the political show or fall into line with the government’s policies will neither ameliorate the political situation in Turkey nor boost Turkey’s image abroad, especially when Erdoğan is preparing to host the prestigious G-20 summit on Nov. 15-16 in Antalya. 

A free press is an inseparable part of a working democracy, and the government should be well aware of that.