A swarm of angry pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) protesters led by an Istanbul member of Parliament attacked Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper with stones, shouting “God is great” and asserting that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would continue ruling the country regardless of the upcoming election’s outcome.
Hurriyet estimates the crowd before their offices at 150, mostly men gathering to throw stones at the offices– breaking at least one glass door, and attempting to enter the office. Police subdued the crowd before more than property damage could occur. The attack, occurring late Sunday night, followed a tweet by the newspaper’s social media account quoting Erdogan in a manner his supporters deemed out of context and incorrect.
In response, supporters, including AKP Istanbul MP Abdülrahim Boynukalın, called for protesters to assemble at the headquarters of the newspaper. Zaman, another Turkish newspaper, describes the campaign as being organized by “pro-government trolls and columnists.” Zaman identifies a number of columnists for pro-AKP newspapers as the “trolls” calling for a protest on Hurriyet.
The crowd reportedly shouted pro-Erdogan slogans and “God is great!” while on the attack. The head of the AKP’s youth organization, who was present as a leader in the attack, delivered remarks in which he called the two newspapers “terrorist organizations” and insisted that the crowd would “make Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the president” regardless of the results of the November 1 parliamentary elections (in Turkish, subtitled video here):
The remarks triggering the attack were in response to the latest deadly attack on the part of the PKK. “If a party had got 400 seats in the elections and reached the required number in parliament to change the constitution, the situation would be different,” Erdogan stated in an interview regarding an attack Sunday by PKK terrorists. Hurriyet tweeted: “Dağlıca comment from Erdoğan: This would not have happened if 400 deputies were given.” Erdogan supporters claim he was talking about the national situation generally, not implying that the terrorist attack would not have happened if the AKP had 400 seats in Parliament.
Hurriyet deleted the tweet. Zaman and Hurriyet are now facing a government probe for allegedly “insulting” President Erdogan by quoting his statements.
Hurriyet editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin has gone on the offensive in other media, telling CNN Türk that such physical attacks on newspapers are unacceptable in a free society, particularly one led by public officials. “Hürriyet is Turkey’s most influential newspaper and a symbol of free journalism. Attacks on any newspaper should be condemned, but the attack on a paper with this kind of identity will particularly be put as a black page in Turkey’s democratic history,” he said.
Ergin left open the possibility that the newspaper had misquoted Erdogan in a tweet, but countered, “Let’s assume that our web editor made a mistake. Should the response be to break glass and windows with stones and clubs?”
Erdogan has previously claimed that Turkey boasts the “freest press” in the world, alleging that criticism of him in media proves this. Almost any criticism of Erdogan in the media in the past five years has been met with legal action, however. This ire has been leveled at Hurriyet in particular, with columnist Tolga Tanış coming under fire for “slandering” the head of state in a book in which he analyzes the relationship between Erdogan and President Barack Obama. Pressure from Erdogan has forced Hurriyet to discharge a number of other columnists in the past, as well.