The IPI global network today condemned threats against Turkish journalist Faik Akgün and the newspaper Günışığı, based in the central Anatolian city of Elazığ, after the newspaper published a report on the suicide of a university student. IPI calls on Turkish authorities to protect Akgün and the newspaper against any threats targeting journalist safety and the newspaper’s press freedom.

On January 13, Akgün published a news report entitled “He couldn’t stand the religious sect’s pressure, committed suicide” on the suicide of a local university student, Enes Kara, who committed suicide, apparently due to the pressure he faced at his dorm, which is run by a religious sect. Kara had previously sent a video to friends before his death in which he spoke about the pressures he had been facing both from his family and members of the religious sect, whose dorm he was being forced to stay in by his family. The news report was removed from the outlet’s website after both Akgün and the newspaper received threats.

Local media and journalists reported that Akgün had first received threats by members of the sect pressuring him to change the news report’s headline by removing mention of the sect. Later, the newpaper’s administration called Akgün to a meeting and removed him from his position as managing editor, which he had been appointed in October 2021. Gerçek Gündem newspaper reported that Akgün had received numerous threats accusing him of being an “infidel” and a supporter of Turkey’s main opposition party, CHP. In an interview with Gerçek Gündem, Akgün said that he was removed from his position on grounds that “he was not able to show a good performance”, yet noted that he had not been fired from the newspaper.

On the same day, a local court in Elazığ ruled to block access to related news reports on the suicide published in the news outlets Cumhuriyet, BirGün, Halk TV, Tele 1, soL, and T24 following a complaint by the student’s father. The provincial governor of Elazığ also banned public commemorations, demos, and press releases in the city for 15 days.

“This is a clear example of an effort to force local media into silence through threats and public pressure. Despite the newsworthiness of this incident, state authorities have also abused their position and power to suppress the flow of news and information on a topic that is sensitive to the Turkish government and its allies”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas said. Turkey’s ruling party AKP was founded on an Islamist ideology and has maintained a highly conservative political discourse with the support of numerous religious communities in Turkey, including – previously – the religious group led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, an alliance broken after the government accused the group of leading the 2016 coup attempt.

“We call on Turkish authorities to ensure journalist safety against any threats and allow media to report freely on events of public relevance. The decision to block access to news reports on this issue is disproportionate and an infringement of press freedom and should be swiftly overturned.”