Critical Turkish journalist injured in Istanbul attack

Istanbul (AFP) - One of Turkey's most prominent anti-government journalists was attacked early Thursday outside his home in Istanbul, raising fears over the security of media figures who have taken a critical line against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ahmet Hakan, a respected columnist for the Hurriyet newspaper and a TV show host on CNN-Turk, was hospitalised after sustaining injuries to his ribs and nose.

A gang of four attacked Hakan, who has previously faced death threats, shortly after midnight outside his home in the upscale Nisantasi district of Istanbul, Hurriyet said.

After hosting his late-night show, Hakan had left the shared headquarters of CNN-Turk and Hurriyet in a car with his driver and bodyguard, the newspaper said.

One of the attackers held off his bodyguard and the other three beat Hakan before fleeing in their car.

Police detained all four suspects after a hot pursuit, Hurriyet said.

In their initial testimonies, the assailants claimed the incident was sparked by an argument with Hakan in traffic.

But video footage on Hurriyet's website shows the perpetrators began following his car immediately after he left his office.

Witnesses told Hurriyet that the assailants had on Monday visited a neighbourhood cafe frequented by Hakan, for "inspections".

- 'We are not afraid of anything' -

The attack on Hakan sparked widespread condemnation and fresh concern about deteriorating press freedoms in Turkey, which is gearing up for a snap November election, its second in five months.

In a message relayed by Hurriyet editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin, Hakan said: "Such attacks will never intimidate us. We are not afraid of anything. We will continue to walk on the path we have chosen."

Ergin said the fact that the assailants followed Hakan after he left his office pointed to an "organised, planned attack".

The US embassy in Ankara said in a tweet: "Those who seek to intimidate journalists with violence are fighting a losing battle. Free speech cannot be beaten into silence."

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition CHP, said: "It is our greatest desire that the government should take careful and coherent steps regarding these attacks aimed at the media."

Speaking in New York, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the attacks and vowed that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

- 'Prime suspect' -

There has been growing concern about deteriorating press freedoms under Erdogan, in particular over the numbers of journalists facing legal proceedings on accusations of insulting top officials.

Tensions have risen further as the government wages a relentless campaign against Kurdish militants, with officials accusing critical journalists of taking the side of "terrorists".

Hakan has been the target of threats by pro-government media columnists for his criticism toward the government and had already asked for police protection.

Cem Kucuk, a columnist for the staunchly pro-government Star, threatened Hakan with "crushing you like a bug" and said: "It's only because we've been merciful until now that you are still alive."

Hakan spoke out against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on his show and criticised AKP deputy Abdurrahim Boynukalin, who led a mob that attacked Hurriyet offices last month.

Hurriyet headquarters were attacked twice last month by pro-government demonstrators who accused the paper of misquoting Erdogan on his comments on Turkey's recent unrest.

But following Tuesday's assault, Boynukalin denied the attack was linked with him or his party.

"We are not so deceitful as to send four men to beat a journalist in front of his home," Boynukalin wrote on Twitter.

Hurriyet and CNN-Turk are owned by Dogan Media Group, which has repeatedly been criticised by Erdogan and does not always follow the government line.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 in its 2015 press freedom index released last month, warning of a "dangerous surge in censorship".