Why are Turkish journalists being targeted now?

Why are Turkish journalists being targeted now?

Serkan Demirtaş

A prominent Turkish journalist, Sabahattin Önkibar, has become the latest and the fifth victim of a two-week campaign against journalists across the country.

On May 10, Selim Demirağ, a columnist for the ultra-nationalist daily Yeni Çağ, in Ankara, was beaten by a six-man mob in front of his house.

Journalist İdris Özyol of the Akdeniz’de Yeni Yüzyıl was beaten outside the office of his paper in the southern province of Antalya on May 15. Again in Antalya, Ergin Çevik, chief editor of the local news website Güney Haberci, was subjected to an assault on May 20.

On May 24, Hakan Denizli was shot in the leg by an unidentified gunman in the southern province of Adana. Police have launched separate probes into the attacks against the journalists.

In addition to domestic reaction, international press organizations have also mobilized for the protection of journalists in Turkey, with specific demands from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to this end.

A letter signed by 20 international organizations, led by the International Press Institute and Committee to Protect Journalists, following the attacks on Demirağ and Özyol on May 16 called on Erdoğan to condemn the assaults and make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

“Attacks like those against Demirağ and Özyol, if left unpunished, will have a serious chilling effect on the country’s journalists and further strengthen a climate of fear, which seriously hinders Turkey’s credibility as a democracy,” read the letter.

This latest wave of attacks against journalists is not the first and perhaps won’t be the last. More than 50 Turkish journalists have been killed in the last 45 years, according to the Turkish Journalists’ Association, including very prominent journalists like Uğur Mumcu, Çetin Emeç, Hrant Dink, Ahmet Taner Kışlalı and so on.

A brief analysis of these attacks reveals that the frequency of such moves against journalists increase at times when the country passes through politically-troubled straits and is open to provocations. Besides journalists, prominent politicians from different lines become targets of such physical attacks at these times. A lynch attempt attack against Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu by a nationalist crowd during a funeral of a fallen soldier in early April should be interpreted within this frame.

More striking is the fact that this increase in attacks against dissident journalists comes on the eve of the Istanbul election rerun, which has fueled political tension once again following the cancellation of March 31 polls for Turkey’s largest metropolis. Although there is no direct link between these mentioned attacks on journalists and Istanbul’s renewed elections, an increase in the tension would further complicate the political climate.

It goes without saying that the purpose behind such attacks on dissident journalists is to create fear, intimidation and deterrence.

Given already the deteriorated state of freedom of expression, these physical attacks on journalists have a multiplier effect on the country’s record. First and foremost, the perpetrators of these attacks should not go unpunished with strong condemnations by senior officials. Second, measures need to be taken for the utmost protection of journalists from all different walks of life.

Protecting each and every journalist and safeguarding his or her freedom of expression is equal to securing public order and democratic values for the sake of a healthy society.