ANKARA: Turkish journalist Levent Gultekin has been attacked by a 25-strong group of people following his recent criticisms of the late politician and founder of the country’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Alparslan Turkes.
Rights activists and opposition figures on Tuesday called on the Turkish government to name the perpetrators of the assault, which took place in a busy Istanbul street and came in the wake of several similar attacks which had so far gone unpunished.
The freeing of a number of prisoners last year under an amnesty law was slammed for allowing the release of ultra-nationalist far-right gangs — known as the Gray Wolves and banned in several European countries — back into communities.
An investigation has been launched into the assault on Gultekin, which was caught on a security camera near Halk TV, an opposition channel where he was heading to take part in a program. The writer was left with broken fingers.
“These 25 people are probably proud of themselves. I would be very embarrassed if I were them. Attacking one person as a group of 25 people is banditry,” Gultekin said on Halk TV.
And he told Arab News: “I was a bit anxious, but I wasn’t expecting an assault of such scale. Turkey’s rule of law is under severe strain and those who have close ties with the rulers enjoy immunity.”
Last week, Gultekin criticized Turkes for having spread racism in the country, sparking a social media backlash from several senior members of the MHP.
Separately, MHP deputy leader, Semih Yalcin, called Gultekin “a sick man, an enemy of the Turks, and a separatist who hates those the nation loves, slanders those it values, attempts to defame those it respects, and slams the reputable with hatred and enmity.”
Last year, Yalcin also criminalized the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party by defining its members as “a flock of insects that need to be exterminated.”
The MHP is currently a political ally to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for holding the parliamentary majority.
Berk Esen, a political scientist from Sabanci University in Istanbul, told Arab News: “In a worrisome manner, political violence has increased in recent months, due to the ruling bloc’s harsh language and retributive policies against its opponents. While growing repression is felt more widely, journalists have especially been hard hit by this autocratization process in the country.”
In January, simultaneous attacks by nationalistic gangs were carried out in the capital city Ankara against individuals critical of the MHP, including opposition politicians and dissident journalists.
“Although such attacks are carried out in crowded city centers, the perpetrators have either not been caught or released immediately, leading many commentators to think that they have tacit support from the state authorities.
“Due to the politicization of the judicial system, there is little accountability for crimes committed against government critics,” Esen said.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition CHP, was recently warned to “watch his step” by Alaattin Cakici, a notorious mafia leader politically affiliated with the MHP.
Gultekin said: “This attack doesn’t only target me. Nobody’s life is secure in Turkey. Some 67 women were murdered in the first 65 days of 2021. The rules aim to oblige people for respecting a social order. But when you remove that wall of law, all the evil is also set free.
“As dissident journalists, we are talking and writing for objecting against the wrongdoings. We cannot remain silent and such attacks cannot silence us at all as long as we are willing to live in a better country with more democracy and more freedom of speech,” he added.
Esen noted that there appeared to be a rift within the ruling bloc between the AKP and MHP when it came to state critics.
“The MHP leadership has openly criticized dissident journalists, who were subsequently attacked on the street. Meanwhile, government authorities have openly criticized such attacks on dissidents, preferring to use more subtle mechanisms to weaken the opposition, including long prosecutions and direct pressure on media organs,” he said.