Pro-gov’t figures promote violence without fear of repercussion, politician says

Supporters of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are threatening or committing violence without facing any real consequences, the former leader of the country’s Liberal Democrat Party said.

“They are behaving like they have immunity in the state of law,” tweeted Cem Toker, who shared photos of pro-government figures who have garnered media attention within the last few weeks for threatening statements or flat-out assault.

The photos include media figure Sevda Noyan, Islamist journalist Fatih Tezcan, AKP youth wing member Mehmet Emin Göç, and a snapshot of a member of the mob that punched Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), last year after a soldier’s funeral in a district of Ankara.

Noyan said on Friday that her family could “take out 50 people” to support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the event of a coup attempt against him.

“There are still a few of them in my gated community, I have my list ready,” she said, referring to supporters of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist preacher living in self-imposed exile in the United States, who Turkey accuses of having masterminded the failed coup attempt of July 2016.

Her remarks have been widely condemned for encouraging hatred and violence as well as legitimising extrajudicial execution. 

Tezcan, another vocal supporter of Erdoğan with a large social media following, echoed a similar sentiment on Monday, when he threatened the lives of women and children linked to hypothetical coup conspirators.

“You say ‘We will overthrow Tayyip Erdoğan, we will execute him’. How will you protect your wife, your children from us? The blood of millions will spill for a single drop of Erdoğan’s blood,” Tezcan said in a video he shared online.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into Tezcan’s statement, Dokuz8 Haber reported.

In another post that circulated widely on social media, AKP youth wing member Göç directed a death threat against CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu and other party officials in a May 3 post on social media, vowing to kill anyone who opposed Erdoğan. The post featured a photo of a jar of bullets.

After a criminal complaint was made against him, a judge placed Göç under house arrest, TR Haberler reported.

Kılıçdaroğlu is no stranger to violence. The opposition leader was harassed and assaulted by a mob last April after he attended the funeral of a soldier who had been killed in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting Turkish security forces for Kurdish self-rule for decades. The assault on the opposition leader was preceded by months of statements by AKP officials accusing the CHP of links to the PKK that were widely amplified by pro-government media outlets.

Turkish authorities released Osman Sarıgün, the man who was photographed punching the 70-year-old CHP leader, under judicial control shortly after the incident. No formal charges were made against him.

Yet while the authorities have taken a soft approach with Sarıgün and others on the ruling party’s side of the political divide, opposition figures have been subject to much harsher reprisals in recent months.

Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the CHP’s provincial head for Istanbul, has been the subject of sustained legal pressure over her social media posts, facing jail time if her appeal fails after being sentenced to 10 years for “making terrorist propaganda,” a charge frequently levelled at opposition figures who criticise the state.

Kaftancıoğlu came under investigation again in April, when she provoked the ire of one of Erdoğan’s closest aides, Presidency Communications Director Fahrettin Altun, by sharing photographs of one of his properties where the CHP municipality was investigating allegations that illegal construction work had taken place.

Legal action against critical journalists, likewise, has continued at pace in Turkey, which was the world’s leading jailer of journalists for five years running until China overtook it in December.

Hakan Aygün, a former chief editor of the left-wing opposition-linked Halk TV, was arrested in April for criticising a national donations campaign the government launched to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of Erdoğan’s lawyers filed a complaint against Aygün for a social media post in which the journalist criticised the campaign with wordplay that compared the government’s pronouncements on it to verses from the Koran.