May 14, 2019

Attackers freed after beating Turkish columnist with baseball bats

Condemning the beating that opposition columnist Yavuz Selim Demirağ received outside his Ankara home on 10 May, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Turkish authorities to ensure that the attack does not go unpunished and to end the climate of hate towards critical journalists in Turkey.

In what was clearly a planned ambush, six or seven individuals used baseball bats to beat Demirağ, a columnist for the nationalist daily newspaper Yeni Çağ, as he arrived at his home on the night of 10 May after appearing on a TV talk show. He was hospitalized with serious head injuries.

The police arrested six suspects but prosecutors quickly granted them a conditional release on the grounds that “the victim’s life is not in danger.” The charge finally brought against them, “aggravated assault,” seemed to endorse their version of the attack, namely that it was the result of a dispute between car drivers.

“This shocking attack was aimed at press freedom and has reinforced the chilling climate in Turkey,” RSF’s representative in Turkey, Erol Önderoğlu, said. “It is incomprehensible that the justice system, which is so quick to jail journalists, seems so lenient with their assailants. We urge the authorities to end impunity, which paves the way for more attacks, and to end the climate of hatred towards critical journalists.”

Violence against journalists often goes unpunished in Turkey. For example, although an investigation was announced, no measures were ever taken against the policemen and ruling AKP party members who attacked 12 journalists in the southeastern city of Midyat in June 2016. Several of the journalists had to be hospitalized but the prosecutor’s office waited eight months before requesting a medical report on their injuries.

As the rule of law is steadily dismantled in Turkey, the situation of its media has become increasingly precarious, especially since a coup attempt in July 2016. Ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists in prison.