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Turkish anti-gov’t journalist attacked after criticizing Erdogan on TV

Yavuz Selim Demirag, an outspoken critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party (AKP) government, was attacked following a TV appearance on Friday, Yenicag daily reported on Saturday.

Demirag, a columnist for Turkey’s nationalist Yenicag newspaper, was beaten with baseball bats by a group of six people outside his house in Ankara, shortly after he appeared on a TV show on Friday.

The assailants reportedly escaped the scene in a vehicle but have since been detained by Ankara police after viewing camera footage and speaking to eyewitnesses.

ODA TV announced six suspects have been released by prosecution following their plea to claim “it was a fight based on a vehicular dispute.

The attack comes amid tensions over the Supreme Electoral Council’s (YSK) ruling to annul the results of the mayoral election held in Istanbul on March 31 – from which the main opposition emerged victoriously – and rerun the election on June 23. This was the outcome of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) demand to appeal.

Although President Erdogan and the AKP claim voting irregularities as the reason for the appeal that resulted in the annulment and rerun in Istanbul, opposition parties argue that the electoral board (YSK) was pressured into the ruling so the AKP can circumvent their loss of power in Turkey’s largest city and business center.

Demirag was hospitalized at the Gülhane Military Medical Academy in Ankara after the attack, where he was visited by opposition leaders, Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Meral Aksener, who are leaders of the main opposition secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) and nationalist opposition Good Party (IP), which formed an alliance in the recent local elections.

Aksener condemned the attack on her Twitter account on Friday and wished the Yenicag columnist a speedy recovery. “This vile attack targets freedom of press and freedom of expression. This kind of action cannot and will not discourage us!” she said.

“How can a journalist be beaten with intent to kill just because he participated in a TV program, voiced his views or criticized someone?” Kilicdaroglu stated to reporters. “Where is Turkey going?” he asked.

Ahmet Celik, the owner of the Yenicag daily, said they will not accept or tolerate such an attack. “One by one, we will reveal those who carried out the attack, as well as those who ordered it. They will account for their actions,” Celik said.

Another columnist for the daily, Murat Agirel, tweeted on Friday: “Journalism is not a crime… We’re not afraid of you!”

Metin Feyzioglu, president of the Turkish Bar Association, emphasized that people in Turkey are fed up with violence.

“There is no winner in violence. But the loser is the entire country. I’m calling on all politicians to listen to the people. We don’t want the language of violence, or violence [itself],’’ Feyzioglu stated on Twitter.

Turkey’s Journalists Association (TGC) stressed that the attack emphasizes the country’s ever-shrinking press freedom.

“It’s not possible to talk about democracy in a society where there’s no press freedom. Peace can never be established in an environment where journalists are constantly targeted,” the organization stressed in a statement.

Erol Onderoglu from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned, “We’ll keep track of the way those who systematically imprison journalists will treat the group of aggressors who left Demirag drenched in blood.”

Turkey has been getting progressively worse regarding freedom of the press with every passing year and was ranked 157th out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

According to a recent report by the International Press Institute (IPI), 170 media outlets and printing offices in Turkey have been forced to close since the failed coup attempt targeting Erdogan’s AKP on July 15, 2016.

The Turkish government has been labeled the world leader in jailing journalists, with 141 journalists currently in prison, according to #FreeTurkeyJournalists platform.

The IPI report also states that 90% of Turkey’s media are currently under government influence.

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