Turkish journalist Mehmet Karakeçili beaten, Hale Gönültaş threatened: CPJ

Journalists Hale Gönültaş and Mehmet Karakeçili (Photo: CPJ)

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Thursday reported a physical assault on journalist Mehmet Karakeçili and a separate verbal threat against journalist Hale Gönültaş, urging Turkish authorities to ensure the safety of the journalists.

Karakeçili, the chief editor for the local Virantv news website in Şanlıurfa province, was assaulted and threatened on August 29 by İsmail Ekinci, the bodyguard and nephew of the city’s mayor, allegedly due to Karakeçili’s reporting on corruption.

Separately, Ankara prosecutors have dismissed a criminal complaint filed by Gönültaş, a reporter for the Artı Gerçek news website, regarding death threats she received from an Islamic group in connection with her reporting.

“Journalists’ safety remains one of the core challenges to press freedom in Turkey, and the actions against editor Mehmet Karakeçili and reporter Hale Gönültaş are common examples of this problem,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Turkish authorities should thoroughly investigate both cases, hold those responsible to account and ensure the safety of the journalists.”

Karakeçili told CPJ on Tuesday that Ekinci hit him with the butt of a gun, breaking his nose and causing a gash on his forehead that required six stitches. The attacker told Karakeçili, “You’ll die the next time you write about the municipality,” according to the journalist, who said he believes the attack was instigated by his reporting on alleged corruption in the municipality.

Ekinci was released from custody under judicial supervision by the local authorities, and his handgun, for which he had a license, was confiscated, according to the reports.

Back in January a local court found İsmail Ekinci and Abdülaziz Ekinci, another nephew of the mayor, Salih Ekinci, guilty of threatening Karakeçili over his reporting about the mayor and imposed minor fines but suspended their sentences.

Meanwhile, Gönültaş told CPJ on Tuesday that she had received several threats over the phone and social media from people who accused her of hurting the case of Halis Bayancuk, the leader of the Tevhid Community known by the code name “Ebu Hanzala,” who was then imprisoned on charges of terrorism, with a report she published in May 2022. She had written about a woman who had managed to break free from the Tevhid Community, which is considered close to the militant Islamic State group, and how the Tevhid Community was allegedly manipulating and recruiting women to their cause.

Gönültaş filed a criminal complaint about the threats in May, but the prosecutors dismissed it June, according to the reports.

Bayancuk was released on July 10 pending retrial. Gönültaş told CPJ that the threats have stopped since Bayancuk’s release. Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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