The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists defending press freedom has expressed concern over the threats made by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against a television news anchor.

In several meetings, President Erdoğan made veiled threats against Turkey’s Fox TV News anchor, Fatih Portakal, who had asked viewers on a live news program on December 10, 2018, why Turkish citizens could not also take to the streets like the protestors in France called “yellow vests”, who have been mobilized by a spike in natural gas prices.

Portakal quickly becoming the target of pro-government media outlets, as his remarks were singled out by Ömer Çelik, a spokesperson for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). On December 13, 2018, Portakal himself expressed fears for his safety during a live broadcast on Fox TV.

Just a few days later, on December 15, the President indirectly addressed Portakal during a public meeting in Denizli, stating, “Someone has invited people out onto the streets.  Do you think this is Paris? During Gezi [Park Riots] and on [the 2016 attempted-coup of] July 15th everyone was taught their lesson. If you undertake such actions, you will pay a heavy price.” Erdoğan also called the anchorman “shameless” and “impudent”.

In the following days President Erdoğan once again referred to Portakal, whose surname in Turkish means ‘orange’, this time escalating his tone. At a public meeting in Konya on December 17, 2018, Portakal, Erdoğan said, “Someone called orange or tangerine or some citrus fruit has come out and called people onto the streets.  Know your limits.  If you don’t know where to stop, this country will slap you on the back of the neck.  In this country, no one plays around with my nation or its honour.  They will pay a heavy price.”

A number of journalist associations in Turkey have asserted that they would consider any ensuing physical attack on Portakal as directly attributable to comments made by the President. Both the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) and the Journalists’ Association of Turkey (TGC) condemned Erdoğan’s remarks in a show of solidarity with their colleagues. TGS Secretary General Mustafa Kuleli said Erdoğan is debasing his discourse to a populist stunt to polarize voters ahead of March 2019’s local elections.

IPI has urged President Erdoğan to respect the right of journalists to freedom of expression as enshrined in both Turkey’s Constitution and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as their right to receive and disseminate information as outlined in the Turkish Press Law.

“At IPI we work to support independent journalism and the free-flow of the media in Turkey.  Whilst 160 journalists are imprisoned in Turkey, some charged with ‘inciting the enmity and hatred of the people’ for their normal journalistic work, we see the President of the country using threats to intimidate journalists and attempting to deny the people their right to gather in public,” IPI’s Turkey Advocacy Coordinator, Caroline Stockford said.  “We call upon the President to state publicly that the government will protect journalists engaged in exercising their right to freedom of expression.”