Court releases extremist group members who attacked journalist in İstanbul

A Turkish court on Monday released two members of a far-right group who attacked journalist Levent Gültekin after he criticized Alparslan Türkeş, the founder of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Turkish media reported.

Gültekin, a columnist for the Diken news website and an outspoken critic of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was assaulted by a group of about two dozen people on March 8 in front of Halk TV headquarters in İstanbul’s Bakırköy district when Gültekin was heading to the station to host a political commentary program together with his colleague Murat Sabuncu.

The Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the attack after Gültekin gave a statement to the police, and three suspects were detained in March. One of the suspects was earlier released.

Gültekin described the incident, saying: “I got out of a taxi and came face-to-face with two youngsters. I realized they were following me. So I moved a little faster. They speeded up as well. Then I attempted to go back, and they did the same thing. About 50 to 100 meters from the station, 15 to 20 people attacked me simultaneously from every part of the street.”

Gültekin also said he was pointed out as a target by the deputy chairmen of a party that is the partner of the ruling party who threatened him and cursed him on social media, referring to the far-right MHP.

In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had called on the Turkish government to investigate the assault on Gültekin and hold the perpetrators to account.

Physical attacks on journalists in Turkey are rarely prosecuted, the CPJ said in its statement.

Forty press members were subjected to physical violence in Turkey in the first three months of 2021, with some of the attacks taking place after the journalists had been pointed to as targets by senior politicians, according to a report released by the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) in April.

“In Turkey, incidents of attacks on press members on the street have become common as the perpetrators are encouraged by the impunity [afforded attackers] in many such cases,” the TGC said, adding that Gültekin, Afşin Hatipoğlu and Orhan Uğuroğlu were among those who were assaulted in the first quarter of 2021, while radio host Hasım Özsu died following one such incident in western Bursa province.

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