AFTER APPEARING on a television talk show May 10, Yavuz Selim Demirag, a columnist for a Turkish newspaper who has been critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, was approached outside his home in Ankara, the capital. He heard shouts of “Hit him, kill him!” before he was pummeled with baseball bats. The attackers fled in a vehicle. He was hospitalized with a broken nose and brain trauma. This is what has become of Turkey’s once-vibrant democracy, now reduced to hit squads and fear.
Mr. Erdogan has fashioned Turkey’s political system into one of paramount presidential power, and since a failed coup attempt in July 2016, has waged a merciless campaign to silence critics. On March 31, his Justice and Development Party lost the races for mayor of Istanbul and Ankara. The defeat stung Mr. Ergogan, who was mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s; the city remains his political base. Soon thereafter, the Higher Election Council responded to ruling party pressure and scrapped the outcome and called for a fresh Istanbul contest on June 23. The opposition, the Republican People’s Party, denounced the move, saying its election victory had been stolen.
The journalist, Mr. Demirag, writes for a newspaper, Yenicag, that has been critical of the government and supports one of the parties in the opposition. Such voices are scant these days. Mr. Erdogan has carried out a purge of Turkish society, punishing his perceived enemies. He has closed 189 media outlets and jailed some 319 journalists. Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2019 index of press freedom. All told, 96,885 people have been arrested, 6,021 academics have been dismissed from their posts, and 4,463 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed in the purge.
Behind the numbers is a system of coercion and pressure. The beating of Mr. Demirag was clearly intended as a warning to other journalists not to speak out. Such topics as the coup attempt, conflict with the Kurds and Mr. Erdogan’s family wealth have been put off-limits by the president. Now he evidently has added the mayoral election to the taboo list, hoping to shut people up. The stolen election has become a major source of tension in Turkey, and prominent people are speaking out against it — making Mr. Erdogan nervous at a time when the economy is also sputtering.
The leader of the Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, visited Mr. Demirag in the hospital. “How can a journalist be beaten with intent to kill just because he participated in a program, voiced his views or criticized someone?” Mr. Kilicdaroglu said afterward. “Where is Turkey going to?”
The answer must be given bluntly: Mr. Ergogan’s expanding dictatorship is steering Turkey toward a dead end. Now baseball bats and hit squads are guiding it on its way.