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Fears Over Turkey Media Freedom Grow

FILE - Journalists demanding greater media freedom are seen at a rally against Turkey's ruling AK Party in Ankara.
FILE - Journalists demanding greater media freedom are seen at a rally against Turkey's ruling AK Party in Ankara.

A prominent Turkish columnist and television news anchor, Ahmet Hakan, has been beaten up outside his Istanbul home. The attack on Hakan, who faced threats over reporting that has been critical of the ruling AK Party, comes as concern grows nationally and internationally over media freedom in Turkey ahead of the November election.

Hakan, who writes for the Hurriyet newspaper, reportedly sustained a broken nose and ribs in the attack by four masked assailants in the early hours of Thursday morning. Both the U.S. and British embassies issued tweets condemning the assault as an attack on media freedom. While the OSCE said it was attack on critical journalism, Sedat Ergin, editor of Hurriyet, alleged Thursday that the attack was politically motivated.

Ergin said there had been open threats against Hakan for some time and that the columnist had requested police protection. He said the paper sees the incident as planned.

Police detained four men following the assault.

The Hurriyet newspaper is one of the few remaining mainstream media organizations critical of the AK Party. A senior party official said it did not approve of the attack; but, leading AK Party members increasingly have been targeting Hurriyet and Hakan in particular. Last month, a party lawmaker, Abdurraham Boynukalin, was involved with violent protests against the paper and issued thinly veiled threats against both its editor and Hakan.

Cem Kucuk, a prominent columnist for a pro-government newspaper, recently wrote that Hakan could be “swatted like a fly.” With Turkey holding a general election November 1, the Hakan attack is part of increasing pressure on the media, according to political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul's Suleyman Sah University.

"It's a new escalation. I mean we have other cases of journalists who are prosecuted, and they are openly criticizing the government. So no one is immune and we are heading toward a very difficult month of October and we may see more of this violence targeting public figures," Aktar said.

The United States and European Union increasingly are voicing concern for media freedom in Turkey, while media rights group Reporters Without Borders has said there is a dangerous increase in censorship.