Supporters of Turkey’s Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) attacked the headquarters of major newspaper Hurriyet on Sunday night. In response, the government is seeking not to investigate the attacks, but Hurriyet, for allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
State media outlet Anadolu Agency confirms that Idris Kurt, a deputy chief prosecutor in Istanbul, will take charge in an investigation regarding whether Hurriyet insulted Erdogan in a tweet that allegedly misrepresented a statement the President made. No individuals have yet been named, as the office is working to find who personally sent the tweet and their supervisors. The tweet was almost immediately deleted, but has triggered a violent response against the newspaper, one of Turkey’s largest.
Kurt has described the accusation against Hurriyet as “twist[ing] Erdoğan’s words to conduct a perception operation.”
The tweet in question claimed that Erdogan had stated that, had the country elected an AKP supermajority in Parliament, a devastating terrorist attack by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) would not have happened. Supporters of Erdogan claim that he merely said “the situation would be different” in that case, not speaking of the terrorist attack specifically but of his ability to govern generally.
In response, what Hurriyet calls a “200-person mob,” led by an AKP member of Parliament, stormed their offices, pelting the doors with stones and yelling, “God is great!” Hurriyet has filed a criminal complaint against the MP, Abdürrahim Boynukalın, for inciting violence. At the mob attack, Boynukalın threatened that Erdogan would govern with extended powers “whatever the electoral outcome on Nov. 1 will be.”
Hurriyet, partly in its own defense, has taken to reporting on Boynukalın’s past, uncovering tweets from 2013 in support of al-Qaeda-backed militia al-Nusra Front. Boynukalın has since threatened to organize similar violent mobs against any media organization that dares to question Erdogan.
Hurriyet is already facing legal action regarding its coverage of the President. Columnist Ertuğrul Özkök is under investigation by a prosecutor for a column in which he appeared to partly blame Erdogan for the death of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a boy who washed up on a Turkish beach after his family attempted to travel to Europe after fleeing Syria. Özkök wrote a scathing article blaming the child’s death on, among others, “the dictator who thinks his country is the property of his father,” an insult the government believes to be directed towards Erdogan. Özkök is facing four years in prison.
In addition to government attacks on Hurriyet, the newspaper Zaman is facing a similar investigation over its editor-in-chief’s television statements against the capture of political prisoners. While Zaman denies the statement, pro-government outlet Kanal 24 TV claims Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanh said, “Erdoğan will be finished regardless of whether an election is held or not.”
Erdogan has become notorious for persecuting media outlets that dare criticize his tenure, though he has routinely denied that the press suffer any persecution in Turkey. Erdogan has claimed that “nowhere in the world is the press freer” than in Turkey, while launching campaigns to censor both newspapers and social media outlets like Twitter. On some occasions, the Turkish government has succeeded in temporarily shutting Twitter down.