Wed, Jul 03, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Threatened, beaten and shot: Turkish journalists remain in the crosshairs

AFP, ANKARA

Yavuz Selim Demirag, a columnist for the ultra-nationalist Yenicag daily, critical of Turkey’s president, speaks to reporters in Ankara on May 29, after he was attacked on May 11.

Photo: AFP

After being assaulted 28 times during his career — punched, kicked and beaten with bats — Turkish journalist Hakan Denizli thought he had seen it all, but for the 29th attack, they came with a gun, and they did so while he was taking his four-year-old grandchild to daycare.

Denizli, who edits the Egemen daily newspaper in the southern city of Adana, is matter-of-fact about it: “I got into the car and the window was open. They came, shot me in the leg and ran away.”

That incident in May came amid a spate of assaults that has seen six journalists targeted in as many weeks.

Many blame the worsening atmosphere on politicians, who regularly lash out at individual journalists.

“If you don’t know your place, the people will hit you in the back of your neck,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after a TV presenter on Turkey’s Fox news channel asked whether people would protest rising prices in December.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said that Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world and ranks it 157th out of 180 countries in the world for press freedom.

There are 142 journalists behind bars in Turkey, according to the P24 press freedom Web site.

Most are detained under a two-year state of emergency imposed after the 2016 failed coup.

One outspoken critic of Erdogan’s government, Yavuz Selim Demirag of the Yenicag daily, blames the attack on him on a full-page advert put out by the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, the ruling party’s coalition partner.

He was among dozens of journalists listed in the advert, which was published in several newspapers after last year’s general election, with the banner: “Slander, allegations, complaints.”

At least two in the advert have been attacked.

Demirag, 61, was beaten by a gang with bats outside his home on May 10, breaking parts of his rib cage.

“When I sneeze, cough, get up, it hurts,” he said. “Being a journalist in Turkey is hard. Attacking journalists is heroic.”

Opposition journalists face not just violence, but relentless pressure from the judiciary.

Denizli said he has “maybe 24 or 25” legal cases against him.

“I am not cowed by these cases,” he added.

Journalists of all stripes are at risk, but the responses often reflect the fierce partisanship of Turkish politics.

Recovering from the gunshot wound to his leg, Denizli suspects his articles on corruption are to blame for the endless attacks, but he remains undeterred.

“I just try to do my job as best as I can,” he said.

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