Two US-based Turkish newspaper reporters were verbally attacked and manhandled by bodyguards of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the lobby of a leading New York hotel and in the street outside while Erdogan was meeting with US Vice-President Joe Biden in the hotel on 25 September.
The reporters were Adam Yavuz Arslan of Bugün and Ali Halit Aslan of Zaman. Both newspapers are critical of the Erdogan government.
Arslan said the president’s nephew, Ali Erdogan, who is a member of his security detail, evicted him from the hotel at the behest of one of the president’s advisers. Once he was on the street, two other advisers, Senol Kazanci and Aydin Ünal, threatened him. “Your existence is a crime,” one of them said.
Two unidentified men then physically attacked Arslan in the street in front of the hotel.
The other reporter, Aslan, who has US as well as Turkish nationality, was also forced to leave the hotel by Erdogan’s bodyguards. They initially asked all the reporters in the hotel’s café to leave, but then named just Aslan and said he had to go, without giving a reason. Local police intervened to protect hm.
“We condemn this attack on two Turkish journalists on US soil by President Erdogan’s bodyguards,” Reporters Without Borders programmes director Lucie Morillon said.
“It is unacceptable that Turkish government representatives had no qualms about assaulting two journalists, outside their country and during a major bilateral meeting, and it shows how the Turkish authorities are now taking a much tougher line with the media.”
Morillon added: “Reporters Without Borders calls on the Turkish authorities to punish those responsible for this violence, which obstructed the work of these reporters.”
An English-language daily, Zaman as well as Bugün supports the Gülen movement, accused by Erdogan of seeking to overthrow his government. The authorities have been trying crush all dissent ever since last year’s Gezi Park protests. Journalists are often censored and, in some cases, are attacked, arrested and jailed.
Reporters Without Borders and two other free speech groups wrote an open letter to President Erdogan this week voicing alarm about freedom of expression in Turkey, which is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.