Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stands next to his wife, Emine Erdoğan, and answers a journalist's questions at a polling station in Istanbul on May 28, 2023. CPJ called on Turkish authorities to investigate multiple incidents of journalists being attacked or obstructed from reporting on the country’s recent presidential election. (AFP/Murad Sezer)

Journalists attacked, critical outlets investigated in Turkey election aftermath 

Istanbul, May 30, 2023–Turkish authorities should investigate multiple incidents of journalists being attacked or obstructed from reporting during the country’s recent election, and the media watchdog RTÜK should treat all outlets equally regardless of political stance, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

During the second round of presidential elections on Sunday, May 28, at least two journalists were physically attacked, others were obstructed from their work, and one was briefly detained, according to news reports and tweets from the journalists and their outlets.

On Tuesday, RTÜK announced that it was investigating seven critical outlets in relation to their broadcasts during the run-off, according to news reports. Turkey’s sitting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won with 52% of the vote.

​​“Turkish authorities should investigate the harassment, obstruction, and detention of journalists covering the recent run-off election, and ensure that members of the press can cover such newsworthy events freely,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “It is also past time for the media regulator RTÜK to treat every media outlet equally and ensure that news organizations are not investigated over their political leanings.”

In the Haliliye district of the eastern city of Şanlıurfa on Sunday, two unidentified men attacked Ömer Akın, a reporter with the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, while he covered a dispute between opposition politicians and lawyers and members of a pro-government group, according to news reports and Akın, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app.

The men repeatedly punched Akın on the back, shoulders, and neck, and broke his microphone and camera. The journalist told CPJ he was not seriously injured. He filed a criminal complaint to the gendarmerie later that day and was told that a prosecutor tasked with investigating crimes regarding the election would hear his testimony. Akın told CPJ that he had not received any update on his case as of Tuesday, May 30.

Separately, officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, harassed or obstructed at least three journalists on Sunday, May 28, including:

  • Fatoş Erdoğan, a reporter for the critical citizen journalist network Dokuz8 Haber, was obstructed from covering the elections at a school in Istanbul, when an AKP official blocked her from working and injured her hand, according to news reports and tweets by her outlet.
  • Sultan Eylem Keleş, a reporter for the critical outlet KRT TV, was also reporting on voting at an Istanbul school when she was asked to leave by an AKP official, according to those sources and Keleş, who communicated with CPJ via Twitter. She filed a criminal complaint with police.
  • Öznur Değer, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish news website JİNNEWS, was covering the voting process at a school in the southeastern city of Mardin, when an AKP official’s bodyguards said that she was not allowed to work there and forced her to leave, according to those sources and a report by her outlet. Mardin police confiscated her phone when Değer filed a criminal complaint about the incident.

Also on Sunday, police briefly detained Vedat Aker, a journalist and publisher of the news website Batman Burada, as he reported on government supporters celebrating in the streets of the southeastern city of Batman, according to reports and a tweet from his outlet.

CPJ messaged Fatoş Erdoğan, Değer, and Aker for more details on their cases but did not immediately receive any replies.

On Tuesday, RTÜK tweeted a statement saying that authorities were investigating broadcasts during the Sunday runoff by seven critical outlets–FOX TV Turkey, HALK TV, TELE 1, KRT, TV 5, FLASH HABER, and Sözcü TV–following citizen complaints.

RTÜK’s board is based on political party seats in parliament and is currently controlled by the AKP and its allies. In the past, RTÜK has favored pro-government outlets and has focused penalties on critical outlets

CPJ emailed the chief prosecutor’s offices of Mardin, Batman, and Şanlıurfa; the AKP; and RTÜK but received no replies.

Turkey is one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, with 40 behind bars as of CPJ’s December 1, 2022, prison census.

After the publication of this article, a representative from the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office responded to an email from CPJ saying that that the office does not respond to emailed requests for comment.

[Editors’ note: This article has been updated to include the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s response to CPJ.]