Members of the International Press Institute (IPI)’s Executive Board today called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his supporters in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to immediately halt a disingenuous campaign of vilification against the Doğan Media Group and its daily newspaper Hürriyet that has raged this week.

The president and his supporters have slammed the group and Hürriyet over the daily’s Saturday report on the death sentence handed to deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, saying the article’s headline on represented a death threat against Erdoğan. The headline at issue read: “The world is shocked! Death sentence for president who received 52 percent of the vote.”

Erdoğan, who was himself elected president with 52 percent of the vote, made the claim in public speeches earlier this week. However, pro-government Turkish daily Sabah noted that on the same day the headline appeared, Erdoğan specifically pointed to Morsi’s receipt of 52 percent of the vote in a public address in which he criticised the Egyptian sentence.

Since then, Erdoğan and a number of his supporters in the AKP who are campaigning ahead of parliamentary elections on June 7 have engaged in an escalating campaign against the Doğan Media Group and Hürriyet based on the premise that Hürriyet’s headline represented a serious threat on his life – a premise the daily blasted in an editorial published on Tuesday asking: “How on earth could such a distortion be possible?”

In recent days, one AKP candidate has even gone so far as to file a criminal complaint against Hürriyet Editor-in-Chief Sedat Ergin seeking his arrest, a move the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) condemned yesterday as a “new blow against press freedom”.

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said the organisation was “very concerned for our members in Turkey and for all those journalists, editors and publishers there who for many years have continued to strive for independent and critical journalism in spite of a climate of fear that led many of their colleagues to choose silence”.

She continued: “The chilling effect that intimidation campaigns such as the ongoing one against Hürriyet have on the journalistic community is absolutely evident and we fear that even the more-courageous and outspoken journalists in Turkey will choose to censor themselves, leading to a loss of vital information and opinions.

“The international journalistic community, as represented by IPI’s Executive Board, stands resolutely against this and will continue to raise its voice against such blatant violations by the Turkish government and in support of independent journalism in Turkey.”

Turkey has suffered a number of such blows in the last decade, as noted in a recent IPI Special Report “Democracy at Risk” published in March. Among others, the report identified ongoing economic pressure on the media, a toxic political climate and manipulation of the legal framework as severe threats to press freedom in the country.

The full text of the statement by the members of IPI’s Executive Board appears below.

We, the undersigned members of the Executive Board of the International Press Institute (IPI) – a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists dedicated to protecting press freedom – write to show our support for our Turkish colleagues at the Doğan Media Group and the daily newspaper Hürriyet, and to condemn the recent campaign of vilification against them by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and members of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).

On May 16, Hürriyet reported on the death sentence that a Cairo court gave former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, accompanied by a headline that noted that Morsi was elected with 52 percent of the vote. President Erdoğan himself made that same observation on the same day during a public speech.

However, President Erdoğan soon alleged that the Hürriyet headline, “Death sentence for president who received 52 percent of the vote”, represented a threat against his life. Some of his supporters in the AKP, perhaps sensing the opportunity to hobble a critical voice ahead of parliamentary elections on June 7, soon joined in that campaign.

For example:

-Former Erdoğan speechwriter and current AKP candidate Aydın Unal on Saturday tweeted: “We had been postponing to settle our account with [Doğan Media Group Honorary President] Aydın Doğan and his media. I pledge that I would be after settling it if I am elected a deputy”.

– President Erdoğan on Monday reiterated his claim that the headline represented a serious threat, implying links between the Doğan Media Group and alleged coup plotters.

-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu lent support to the threat argument on Monday, saying that while he respected press freedom, “everyone will know their place”.

-Senior Erdoğan adviser Yigit Bulut told state-run TRT Haber on Tuesday that “I have two licensed guns and hundreds of bullets” that he would use to defend the president.

On Tuesday, President Erdoğan said that the Doğan Media Group and Aydın Doğan would “learn how they should behave when we have the presidential system” that he and supporters hope to enact if they achieve a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Prime Minister Davutoğlu on Tuesday claimed that he refrained from intervening in news stories or with columnists, but did so “when human honour is trampled on”.

-The prime minister’s deputy, Suleyman Soylu, said on Tuesday: “Hey Aydın Doğan, you must know that this oppression will not continue”.

-This week, AKP candidate Rahmi Kurt filed a criminal complaint against Hürriyet Editor-in-Chief Sedat Ergin seeking his arrest over the Morsi headline.

President Erdoğan’s allegation and the campaign taken up by his supporters are as preposterous as they are dangerous, particularly as Turkey nears parliamentary elections on June 7.

It is unbecoming a head of state – who under Turkey’s Constitution should remain above the political fray – to stoke fear and polarisation so disingenuously in what appears to be a bid to silence critical voices in order to secure a parliamentary margin that will allow him to take even greater power.

In a separate case, a court in Ankara ordered Hürriyet chairwoman Vuslat Doğan Sabancı and Hürriyet columnist Mehmet Yılmaz to pay 20,000 Turkish Liras (approx. €7,000) in compensation to President Erdoğan, ruling that an Aug. 25, 2014, article by Yılmaz criticising the president and followers of U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen in the context of the now-suppressed corruption investigation that erupted in December 2013 was “insulting” to the president.

We call on President Erdoğan to immediately halt this campaign – as well as his increasing reliance on insult provisions to target his critics – and to apologise to the Doğan Media Group and Hürriyet.

We similarly call on members of the AKP, including those standing for election as deputies, to disavow this campaign and to refrain from targeting independent media, particularly in such an irresponsible manner.

Finally, we call on Turkish prosecutors to reject the absurd request to bring criminal charges against journalists over this headline.

The people of Turkey, which has seen press freedom decline precipitously over the last decade, deserve better.


IPI Executive Board Chair

John Yearwood, World Editor, The Miami Herald, USA

IPI Executive Board Vice Chairs

Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, Editor-in-Chief & CEO, Boishakhi TV, Bangladesh

Ken MacQuarrie, Director, BBC Scotland, UK

Markus Spillmann, Former Editor-in-Chief, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland

Dawn Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, One Caribbean Media Ltd., Trinidad & Tobago

IPI Executive Board Members

Owais Aslam Ali, Chairman, Pakistan Press International (PPI), Pakistan

Karl Amon, Director of Radio, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF)

Ole Kristian Bjellaanes, Managing Editor, Norwegian News Agency, Norway

Sami El Haj, Head, Human Rights and Public Liberties Desk, Aljazeera Media Network, Qatar

Kim Fletcher, Editor, The British Journalism Review, UK

Linus Gitahi, Group CEO, Nation Media Group, Kenya

Daniel Hadad, CEO, Grupo Infobae, Argentina

Ferial Haffajee, Editor-in-Chief, City Press, South Africa

Johannes Hano, Bureau Chief, ZDF German Television (New York/Canada), Germany

Hiroshi Komatsu, Chief Editorial Writer, the Mainichi Shimbun, Japan

Daoud Kuttab, Director General, Community Media Network; Founder, AmmanNet, Jordan

Umud Mirzayev, Chairman, International Eurasia Press Fund (IEPF), Azerbaijan

Pavol Múdry, Founder and former General Manager, SITA-Slovak News Agency, Slovakia

Kaius Niemi, Senior Editor-in-Chief, Helsingin Sanomat, Sanoma Media, Finland

N. Ravi, Director, The Hindu, India

Galina Sidorova, Chairperson, Foundation for Investigative Journalism – Foundation 19/29, Russia

Martha Steffens, Professor, SABEW Chair in Business and Financial Reporting, University of Missouri School of Journalism, USA

Ferai Tinç, Former Foreign Editor and Columnist, Hürriyet, Turkey

Kabiru Yusuf, Chairman, Media Trust Ltd, Nigeria