RIGHTS >Hürriyet columnist faces up to five years in prison for ‘insulting’ President Erdoğan

Burcu Purtul Uçar – ISTANBUL

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Daily Hürriyet columnist and former editor-in-chief Ertuğrul Özkök faces up to five years and four months in prison for “insulting” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in an opinion piece published on Sept. 3. 

In an op-ed entitled “Listen, grand man” written after the tragic death of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian Kurdish refugee whose body washed ashore a Turkish beach, Özkök slammed Middle Eastern actors for turning the region into “the most brutal land in the world.”

Although Özkök did not mention anyone specifically, the article referred to a “dictator” who thought the country was the “property of his father.”

“Release your fingers that are clenched for the Rabia gesture... Unclench your fist clenched by your black politics and let that hands raise for prayer... Look, my friend, you are the murderer of that kid,” were among the sentences deemed insulting by the prosecutor’s office.

The indictment claimed Özkök’s writing “degraded” its collocutor and exceeded the limits of “acceptable criticism.” 

“In this case, it might be argued that the limits of acceptable criticism are wider than they are for a regular citizen,” the indictment said.

“However, it should not be forgotten that the president and the seat of the Presidency should benefit from legal protections as provided by the law,” it added. 

The indictment came at a critical time, as two journalists from daily Cumhuriyet were arrested Nov. 26 for a story about Turkish intelligence trucks carrying weapons to jihadists in Syria. 

Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül were arrested on charges of espionage and aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. 

Press freedoms are a rising concern in Turkey, which currently ranks 149 out of 180 on the 2015 World Press Freedom Index prepared by Reporters Without Borders. Turkey was also categorized as “not free” in Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report.


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