Istanbul, September 7, 2023—Turkish authorities should ensure the safety of journalists Mehmet Karakeçili and Hale Gönültaş and hold to account those responsible for recent incidents involving the journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On the evening of August 29, Karakeçili, chief editor for the local news website Virantv in the southeastern city of Viranşehir in the province of Şanlıurfa, was assaulted and threatened by İsmail Ekinci, the bodyguard and nephew of the city’s mayor, allegedly due to Karakeçili’s reporting on corruption, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.
Separately, Ankara prosecutors have dismissed the criminal complaint filed by Hale Gönültaş, reporter for the independent news website Artı Gerçek, regarding death threats she received from an Islamic group in connection with her reporting, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.
“Journalists’ safety remains one of the core challenges to press freedom in Turkey, and the actions against editor Mehmet Karakeçili and reporter Hale Gönültaş are common examples of this problem,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Turkish authorities should thoroughly investigate both cases, hold those responsible to account, and ensure the safety of the journalists.”
Karakeçili told CPJ on Tuesday, September 5, that Ekinci hit him with the butt of a gun, breaking his nose and causing a wound on his forehead that required six stitches. The attacker told Karakeçili, “You’ll die the next time you write about the municipality,” according to the journalist, who said he believes the attack was instigated by his reporting on alleged corruption in the municipality.
Ekinci was released from custody under judicial control by the local authorities, and his licensed weapon was confiscated, according to the reports.
Previously, on January 20, a Viranşehir court found İsmail Ekinci and Abdülaziz Ekinci, another nephew of the mayor, Salih Ekinci, guilty of threatening Karakeçili over his reporting about the mayor and sentenced them to minor monetary fines, but delayed the implementation of the sentences, according to the verdict, which CPJ has reviewed.
Meanwhile, Gönültaş told CPJ on Tuesday that she had received several threats over the phone and social media from people who accused her of hurting the case of Halis Bayancuk, the leader of the Tevhid Community known by the code name “Ebu Hanzala,” who was then imprisoned with charges of terrorism, with a report she published in May 2022. She had written about a woman who had managed to break free from the Tevhid Community, which is considered close to the militant Islamic State group, and how the Tevhid Community was allegedly manipulating and recruiting women to their cause.
Gönültaş filed a criminal complaint about the threats on May 3, 2023, but the prosecutors had dismissed it by June 13, according to the reports.
Bayancuk was released on July 10 pending a retrial, independent news website Gerçek Gündem reported. Gönültaş told CPJ that the threats have stopped since Bayancuk’s release.
CPJ called and emailed the office of Viranşehir mayor and emailed the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office for comment but did not receive a reply.