Daily Hürriyet’s Istanbul headquarters was pelted with stones by a group of pro- Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters early on Sept. 7 in an attack described by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief as “a black page in Turkey’s democratic history.”
Around 150 pro-AKP protesters started to convene in front of Hürriyet’s HQ in Istanbul’s Bağcılar district late on Sept. 6, hours after a deadly terrorist attack in Turkey’s southeast.
The group then attacked security personnel at the outer gate before forcing their way to the door, which they pelted with stones. Protesters chanting pro-AKP slogans retreated after riot police arrived at the scene.
“Hürriyet is Turkey’s most influential newspaper and a symbol of free journalism. Attacks on any newspaper should be condemned, but the attack on a paper with this kind of identity will particularly be put as a black page in Turkey’s democratic history,” editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin told private broadcaster CNN Türk.
“This attack was carried out by supporters of the ruling party. Political parties in a democracy should distance themselves from violence,” he added.
Calls to burn down the newspaper building
Abdülrahim Boynukalın, an AKP Istanbul MP and the head of the AKP’s youth organization, led the protesters who threw stones at Hürriyet’s building. Protesters then marched to the flag pole outside the building and lowered the Hürriyet flag, before burning it while chanting political and slogans including “God is great.”
As the attack continued, there were calls among AKP supporters on social media to burn down the Hürriyet building “like the Madımak,” a hotel in the eastern province of Sivas where 35 dissidents were burnt to death by a ultraconservative mob in 1993.
“We will take the issue to court,” editor-in-chief Ergin told CNN Türk.
“We won’t abandon independent journalism due to such attacks. We will continue to do independent journalism. All of these are just temporary issues,” he added.
Calls for a protest in front of Hürriyet had been started on social media by a group of AKP supporters, including an MP, accusing the newspaper of misquoting Erdoğan.
Erdoğan’s controversial remarks
Speaking on the pro-government A Haber TV station about the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) deadly attack on a military convoy in the southeastern province of Hakkari on Sept. 6, Erdoğan was asked by the presenter: “You said in the inauguration of a metro line that you ‘wanted 400 deputies’ [for the AKP]. It is said that these words played a role in the coming of this conflict period.”
In response, Erdoğan said: “If a political party could have got 400 deputies or [a parliamentary majority] to write a new constitution, the situation would be different today.”
Reporting the full text of the interview, Hürriyet tweeted: “Dağlıca comment from Erdoğan: ‘This would not have happened if 400 deputies had been given.’”
Speaking the morning after the attack on the Hürriyet office, Ergin defended his newspaper’s reporting.
“If we made a mistake, we would admit it. We are reviewing the issue. They claim that [Erdoğan’s words] were twisted. But when we listen to it, we hear that those were exactly uttered by Erdoğan. But what was the context? We are debating that,” Ergin said.
“Let’s assume that our web editor made a mistake. Should the response be to break glass and windows with stones and clubs?” he added.