Ahmet Hakan, a columnist for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, has been discharged from the hospital with broken ribs and a broken nose following a beating by four men on Thursday night, two of whom have ties to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Hakan has received death threats in the past for criticism of the AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Hakan, who also hosts a television program at sister company CNN Türk, was attacked outside his home in Istanbul after driving home from work around midnight Friday, along with his bodyguard. Four men approached them; one held the bodyguard while the other three beat Hakan, breaking his ribs and nose.
The four men have been detained, and Hurriyet is reporting that two of them have ties to the AKP. Uğur Adıyaman and Fuat Elmas, both 29 years old, are registered AKP members. Adıyaman has a long criminal record and a brother in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terrorist organization that the AKP has sworn to eradicate. The only known fact regarding Elmas’ past is that he worked for a “security firm” until 2010. Authorities have not released the background of the other two assailants.
The men reportedly told authorities that they beat Hakan as a result of a traffic dispute, but Hurriyet editors state that they have surveillance video showing the men following Hakan from his workplace to his home.
Hakan released a public message to Hurriyet upon his discharge from the hospital: “Such attacks will never intimidate us. We are not afraid. We will continue walking on the path that we know is right.”
President Erdogan has not made any public statements regarding the assault. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was asked about the incident on his way back from New York, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly meeting, and he condemned the attack. “Whoever uses it for whatever reason, it is not possible to approve of violence. I always condemn violence and disapprove it, particularly when it targets journalists,” he said.
In a column, the Hurryiet editorial board has warned that Hakan is a victim of “lynch culture,” promoted largely by AKP members, and that the attack threatens all journalists. “Staying overnight in the emergency section under medical control has become a new life style for journalists in Turkey,” they write:
The attack on Ahmet Hakan is the result of a systematic campaign that has seen the journalist slandered and branded as a target for quite some time. Such attacks have evolved into death threats in the past weeks, directly targeting his life, as “crushing him like a fly” could be mentioned in a newspaper that advocates the current political power.
The ugly attack that Ahmet Hakan has been subjected to should be eye-opening to show the heights such a lynch culture can reach and the kinds of threats aiming at peoples’ lives it can lead to. From now onwards, everyone who closes their eyes to lynch campaigns will be implicated when similar attacks happen.
Hakan has personally received death threats from columnists sympathetic to Erdogan. “We could crush you like a fly if we want. We have been merciful until today and you are still alive,” Cem Küçük, a columnist for the pro-government Star newspaper, wrote of Hakan in early September.
Hurriyet has also come under attack for reporting on the AKP government. Its headquarters in Istanbul and Ankara were attacked twice in September by stone-wielding mobs of up to 200 people. Surveillance footage shows the mobs hurling stones into the doors of the editorial offices and attempting to pry their way in, shouting, “Allahu Akbar.”
Abdürrahim Boynukalın, an AKP legislator, was present at the attack, shouting into a megaphone that Erdogan would be reelected in November’s national elections “whatever the electoral outcome” is. Boynukalın has threatened to organize more mobs against critical media following the incident.
Subsequent to these attacks, the government launched a probe into Hurriyet for alleged “terrorist propaganda.” Hurriyet had published uncensored photographs of Turkish soldiers killed in PKK terrorist attacks as part of their regular coverage of news in Turkey.