Fresh attacks on Turkish media could be at the gates

Fresh attacks on Turkish media could be at the gates

The head office of the Turkish weekly newspaper Nokta was raided by police on Sept. 14, upon a court order, to confiscate all issues of its last edition amid accusations that it “insulted” President Tayyip Erdoğan. Its news chief Murat Çapan was taken into custody.

Following reactions by journalism associations, an interesting response came via a tweet by Emrullah İşler, a MP for the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) and a former deputy prime minister. Using wordplay based on the magazine’s name Nokta (Point), İşler tweeted: “That rag of rubbish attempted a point operation against Erdoğan, but this nation will place a point on it and its masterminds on Nov. 1.” İşler also implied that Fethullah Gülen - the U.S.-resident Islamic ideologue who was once a close ally of Erdoğan but is now an archenemy - was behind the publication.

There is due to be a re-election in Turkey on Nov. 1, after the AK Parti lost its parliamentary majority in the June election and no coalition could be established. That result was bad news for Erdoğan, who wants to shift Turkey away from a parliamentary system toward a strong presidential one - even if it is only a de facto presidential system under an AK Parti government, which would not create any problems for its natural leader.

It is also interesting that during an attack on Sept. 6 on Hürriyet, Turkey’s most influential mainstream newspaper, another AK Parti MP, Abdurrahim Boynukalın, who is also the head of party’s youth branch, made the same point. At the protest during the attack, Boynukalın was recorded on video saying that “no matter what the result of the Nov. 1 election is,” they would give Erdoğan the presidential powers he wants, while also threatening Hürriyet’s publisher the Doğan Media Group and its founder Aydın Doğan by claiming that there would “no longer be any place” for them in Turkey then.

The Hürriyet headquarters in Istanbul suffered another physical attack on Sept. 8 and only after that second attack did Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu express disapproval of such incidents against the media. Only Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş openly mentioned the name of the paper, Hürriyet, in his reaction.
Boynukalın got his reward by securing a prestigious seat in the AK Parti’s central decision-making board at the party’s congress on Sept. 12 in Ankara.

It seems that attacking the media is a promising political investment for those who want to guarantee their place on the MP candidate list for the Nov. 1 election. The lists of all parties have to be submitted to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) by Sept. 18.

Such an incentive might lead to further individual attacks on journalists who are disliked by AK Parti circles.

In the political backstages, people are talking about video footage showing discussions of how certain journalists deserve to be beaten up. If this is indeed the case, it would be extremely dangerous and could spill over to other walks of life, beyond the media sector.

It would also mean that AK Parti officials, who have governed Turkey for 13 years, were abandoning their original claims that they avoided political violence of all sorts, failing to draw a clear line distancing themselves from physical attacks for political purposes. That would jeopardize not only press freedom and the Turkish people’s freedom to access information; it would also put into question the Turkish state’s obligation to protect the lives and property of its citizens, as the country heads to another important election in 45 days.

Meanwhile, the police announced on Sept. 14 that a probe had been opened against a police officer who posed for a photo, with his machine gun in his hand, together with a “protester” during the second attack on Hürriyet - as if he was not supposed to protect the people inside the building but rather support the “protest.”

The outcome of that probe is not yet clear, but we know that all 11 people taken into custody after the second attack on Hürriyet were later released by police, despite the fact that two unregistered handguns were confiscated from them.

The government should consider the consequences of fresh attacks on the media and individuals working in the media and it should take necessary precautions to avoid them.