The editor-in-chief of Zaman, a major Turkish newspaper, is stepping down, citing “unlawful pressure on press” as a major factor in his departure. The resignation comes a week after a major anti-government columnist was hospitalized due to a public beating.
“I see that I am unable to perform my duty as an editor-in-chief due to the latest unlawful pressure on press and my personality,” Ekrem Dumanlı wrote in a statement published by Zaman about his stepping down. “I think I have been unable to sufficiently and efficiently contribute to daily Zaman where I have tried to serve since 2001 and my health, too, does not allow this anymore.” Dumanlı was in charge of the newspaper for fourteen years before stepping down on Tuesday.
Zaman is known for publishing work critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). It has also been tied to supporters of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic preacher currently living in the United States and considered a major enemy of the AKP and Erdogan personally. Police raided Zaman’s offices in 2014, arresting Dumanlı and other senior editors, and imposed a travel ban on Dumanlı. Dumanlı described Zaman as a “stronghold of free thought” as he left.
Dumanlı’s departure follows the violent assault of Ahmet Hakan, a columnist for Hurriyet, who was beaten by four men shortly after midnight on his way home from work. Two of the assailants have been identified as AKP members, though those arrested initially said a “traffic dispute” had initiated the beating. Hakan has been a vocal critic of Erdogan, and was previously threatened by a columnist for pro-AKP newspaper Yeni Safak, who wrote of Hakan, “We could crush you like a fly.”
Hurriyet reports Tuesday that two of the men arrested have confessed to having been paid 100,000 Turkish lira (about $33,700) for the beating by a man claiming to be working alongside the Turkish MIT intelligence organization, the nation’s CIA equivalent.
Hurriyet itself was attacked by angry Islamist mobs twice in September, at both its Istanbul and Ankara headquarters. Crowds chanting “Allahu Akbar”–one led by an AKP member of Parliament–threw stones into the office buildings and attempted, but failed, to break in.
In a separate incident Monday, a man was arrested in a park in Kayseri Province for speaking critically of President Erdogan’s policies in public. The man, identified as Olcay Büyükelbaşı, is being charged with insulting the president, a crime in Turkey.
A coalition of journalists, including Dumanlı’s successor, Abdülhamit Bilici, met Tuesday in Istanbul for a discussion of press censorship in the country. Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions Press Secretary-General Özge Yurttaş detailed a number of recent incidents involving the harassment of journalists:
Two journalists have directly been attacked by police officers, two reporters have been taken by police officers into their vehicles and threatened, the Hürriyet office has been struck twice with stones in an attack directed by a deputy of the ruling party, two headquarters have been raided by the police, one being Nokta Magazine and the other being the Dicle News Agency’s office in Diyarbakir. […] Other than this, 19 newspapers have had lawsuits filed against them for cases of “insulting the president.”