The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today urged Turkish authorities to respect journalists’ rights and ensure journalists’ safety in the run-up to the mayoral re-election in Istanbul on June 23.

During nationwide local elections on March 31, opposition CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu was initially declared the winner, marking the first time in 25 years that an opposition candidate had won the mayoral election in Istanbul. However, the ruling AKP party challenged the election, based on claims of breaches of electoral process, before the Supreme Electoral Board of Turkey (YSK), which controversially ordered a re-run solely of the mayoral election in Istanbul. The ruling cited irregularities in assigning balloting committees, which were originally appointed by the YSK itself. The ruling also alleged irregularities in the counting of ballots in approximately 100 ballot boxes.

IPI has been following the election process closely in terms of fair media coverage and obstruction of journalists’ work. In recent years, Turkey has witnessed a spike in intimidation and physical attacks on journalists during election periods.

Last June, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, now a long-term AKP ally, published a “hate list” of journalists in the pro-government newspapers Sabah and Hürriyet. The list contained 70 names of journalists, including IPI Executive Board member Kadri Gürsel, former Cumhuriyet journalist Aydın Engin, and Oda TV columnist Sabahattin Önkibar.

Just last month, Sabahattin Önkibar was assaulted by a group of individuals in Ankara after comments on a television programme criticizing the AKP-MHP coalition for announcing a common candidate for the Istanbul election. The assailants were apprehended and later released on bail. A criminal complaint against Önkibar by MHP for “constantly insulting MHP leader” followed the physical assault.

The incident was part of a string of recent physical attacks on journalists in the country. Also last month, four journalists, Hakan Denizli, Ergin Çevik, İdris Özyol and Yavuz Selim Demirağ, were attacked by assailants in different incidents in Ankara, Antalya and Adana.

IPI remains deeply concerned over the increasing level of verbal and physical attacks on journalists in Turkey ahead of the upcoming vote and calls on Turkish authorities to respect journalists’ rights and ensure their safety during upcoming electoral coverage. Providing a safe environment for journalists to report timely and objectively on developments during the electoral campaigns is essential to a democratic decision-making process by Turkey’s public.

“Attacks on independent journalists are becoming more frequent in Turkey and we fear that these will increase as the re-election in Istanbul comes closer. Such aggression against journalists will create a climate of fear and undermine the public’s ability to fully participate in the vote”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “The government should discharge its responsibility of protecting journalists and allow dissenting voices to be heard in the true spirit of democracy.”