Threatened, beaten, shot: Turkish journalists in the crosshairs

Yavuz Selim Demirag, a columnist for the ultra-nationalist Yenicag Daily newspaper, critical of Turkey's President, speaks to AFP journalists in the Turkish capital Ankara on May 29, 2019 after he was attacked on May 11. (AFP)
Updated 02 July 2019

Threatened, beaten, shot: Turkish journalists in the crosshairs

  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world
  • Opposition journalists face not just violence but relentless pressure from the judiciary

ANKARA: After being assaulted 28 times during his career — punched, kicked and beaten with bats — Turkish journalist Hakan Denizli thought he had seen it all.
But for the 29th attack, they came with a gun, and they did so while he was taking his four-year-old grandchild to daycare.
Denizli, who edits the Egemen daily newspaper in the southern city of Adana, is matter-of-fact about it: "I got into the car and the window was open. They came, shot me in the leg and ran away."
That incident in May came amid a spate of assaults that has seen six journalists targeted in as many weeks.
Many blame the worsening atmosphere on politicians, who regularly lash out at individual journalists.
"If you don't know your place, the people will hit you in the back of your neck," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan snapped after a TV presenter on Turkey's Fox news channel asked whether people would protest rising prices in December.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, and ranks it 157th out of 180 countries in the world for press freedom.
There are 142 journalists currently behind bars in Turkey, according to the P24 press freedom website. Most are detained under a two-year state of emergency imposed after the 2016 failed coup.
The government says nobody was arrested for work as a journalist, but RSF says violence against the media often goes without punishment or even criticism.
A request for a parliamentary investigation into the recent attacks was rejected by the ruling AKP party and its alliance partner.
One outspoken critic of Erdogan's government, Yavuz Selim Demirag of the Yenicag daily, blames the attack on him on a full-page advert put out by the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the ruling party's coalition partner.
He was among dozens of journalists listed in the advert, which was published in several high-circulation newspapers after last year's general election, with the banner, "Slander, allegations, complaints".
At least two of them have been attacked.
Demirag, 61, was beaten by a gang with bats outside his home on May 10, breaking parts of his rib cage.
"When I sneeze, cough, get up, it hurts," he said.
Prosecutors say they are investigating, but six suspects were quickly released after their arrest.
"Being a journalist in Turkey is hard, attacking journalists is heroic," Demirag said.
Opposition journalists face not just violence but relentless pressure from the judiciary.
Barely a month after the assault, Demirag was briefly imprisoned for an old conviction of "insulting the president" over a speech in which he questioned the right to immunity of certain officials, and he remains on probation.
Denizli says he has "maybe 24 or 25" legal cases against him.
"I am not cowed by these cases."
Journalists of all stripes are at risk, but the responses often reflect the fierce partisanship of Turkish politics.
The government has been silent on Demirag's assault, for instance, but Erdogan's office immediately denounced the attack on Islamist journalist Murat Alan, who was beaten up in Istanbul on June 14.
Alan had reportedly referred to Turkish generals as "donkeys", angering the country's ultra-nationalists.
Idris Ozyol, a journalist from Antalya on the south coast, did at least receive a call of consolation from Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after being attacked recently.
But he said Cavusoglu blamed the government's own coalition partner, the MHP -- which only annoyed him further.
"One arm of the government attacks, the other arm sends messages saying 'We are so sad' -- like a game of good-cop, bad-cop," he told AFP.
RSF's Erol Onderoglu said the situation was "deeply hypocritical" given Turkey's criticism of Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their Istanbul consulate last year.
Onderoglu, who himself faces charges of "terrorist propaganda" for supporting a pro-Kurdish newspaper, said: "We need a prominent political figure to intervene against this hostile climate... (but) it is really difficult to expect anything."
Recovering from the gunshot wound to his leg, Denizli suspects his articles on corruption are to blame for the endless attacks, but he remains undeterred.
"I just try to do my job as best as I can," he said.


Gulf countries announce measures to cut links with Iran as coronavirus cases rise in Middle East

Updated 21 min 3 sec ago

Gulf countries announce measures to cut links with Iran as coronavirus cases rise in Middle East

  • The UAE suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran
  • Kuwait has canceled celebrations for national holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday

DUBAI: Gulf countries announced new measures on Tuesday to cut links with Iran to prevent coronavirus spreading after the confirmation of 20 new cases, all of them people returning from the Islamic republic.

The UAE suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran after Kuwait and Bahrain announced the additional cases of COVID-19.

Over the past two days, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have reported 29 cases of the novel coronavirus among people returning from pilgrimages to Iran, which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China and where the death toll has reached 16.

Bahrain also announced 9 new cases, bringing the total number affected in the kingdom to 17 — including six Saudi women — after they returned from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE.

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority “suspended all passenger flights and cargo to and from Iran starting today and for one week,” a statement carried by the official WAM news agency said, adding that the ban could be extended.

Also on Tuesday, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed tweeted that the UAE was ready to provide all forms of support to help China combat the spread of the virus.

Shortly after, the Bahraini authorities said citizens were banned from traveling to Iran “until further notice.”

In neighboring Kuwait, three new cases were recorded among Kuwaiti men who had been under quarantine after returning from Iran.

Oman, which on Monday reported its first cases of coronavirus in two Omani women who had returned from Iran, reported an additional two cases.

Muscat was making arrangements to bring back its citizens from the Islamic republic, the foreign ministry said, a day after it suspended all flights to and from Iran.

Oman also announced that it will suspend the import and export of goods from Iran from Wednesday.

The three countries have large Shiite Muslim populations who frequently travel to Iran to visit holy shrines.

The UAE has already announced 13 coronavirus cases, all foreigners, including an Iranian couple who had traveled from Iran.

Kuwait has canceled celebrations for national holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday and also scrapped all sports events to counter the spread of the disease.