Hürriyet journalist assaulted in Istanbul

Istanbul, October 1, 2015–A critical Turkish journalist, Ahmet Hakan, was assaulted by four men on Wednesday night in Istanbul, according to news reports. The assault followed two attacks on the independent daily Hürriyet, one of the outlets Hakan works for, and threats the journalist received in recent weeks.

“Turkish journalists have been jailed, harassed, insulted, and sued, but this physical attack makes clear that press freedom is being further undermined in Turkey,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Authorities must take immediate action to ensure that all those responsible for this attack are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The right of Ahmet Hakan to express himself is guaranteed under Turkish law and must be protected.”

Hakan, a columnist for the independent daily Hürriyet and host of a popular show “Tarafsız Bölge” (Impartial Zone) at broadcaster CNN Türk, is known for his criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, four men in a car followed Hakan from his television studio to his home in Istanbul’s Nişantaşı neighborhood, where they assaulted him and his bodyguard, local and international news reports said. The assailants fled the scene. Hakan was hospitalized with broken ribs and a broken nose and later discharged, reports said. The health status of the bodyguard is unclear.

According to news reports, authorities detained four suspects who said they attacked the journalist after they had a brief argument about a traffic incident. But Sedat Ergin, chief editor of Hürriyet, disputed the claim in a statement and said that video footage from security cameras showed the assailants’ car near the CNN Türk studios, which meant they had followed Hakan from his work to his house. Two of the suspects are affiliated with the AKP, according to Kanal D, a TV channel of the Doğan Media Group, which also owns Hürriyet.

The assault on Hakan occurred three weeks after protesters attacked with stones and sticks a building in Istanbul that houses Hürriyet and other news outlets, according to news reports. At least two individuals have reportedly threatened Hakan since. Abdurrahim Boynukalın, a deputy of the AKP party, who reports said had led the raid on Hurriyet and other outlets, said he was thinking about going to the journalist’s house that day to “wait” for him; footage of his comment was uploaded to social media. Boynukalın later condemned the attack on Hakan on Twitter and denied responsibility for it, according to Hürriyet.

On September 9, Cem Küçük, a columnist for the pro-AKP daily Star, published a column in which he addressed Hakan and said, “We will crush you like a bug if we so wish. It’s only because we’ve been merciful until now that you are still alive.” Küçük later condemned the attack on Hakan on live television and added, “Our fight, struggle with the Doğan Group will continue. We are not to be silent because this happened.”

After the threats, Hakan asked the authorities for official protection, news reports said. Authorities have not yet responded to the request, and Hürriyet hired a private guard for the journalist.

Authorities launched an investigation into Doğan Media Group, accusing its media outlets of carrying terrorism propaganda, according to news reports.

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