Journalist receives jail sentence for 'liking Erdoğan insult'

Journalist receives jail sentence for 'liking Erdoğan insult'

GAZİANTEP - Doğan News Agency
Journalist receives jail sentence for liking Erdoğan insult

Local journalist Yaşar Elma (L) and his lawyer, Dilber Demirel (R). DHA photo

A journalist from a local daily in southeastern Turkey has received a suspended prison sentence for "liking" a remark criticising President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Facebook, which the court deemed as an "insult."

The 19th Criminal Court of First Instance in the Gaziantep province convicted Yaşar Elma on charges of "insulting a public servant" in the second hearing of the trial on April 4, in which Erdoğan's lawyer also attended.

The court originally ruled to send Elma to prison for 28 months, but decreased the sentence to 23 months before suspending it. 

"I had just used the 'like' feature of Facebook when I saw a comment on Mr. President one day. I deleted it after half an hour, but the police came up and the court convicted me in the second hearing of the trial," Elma said in an interview to the Doğan News Agency, noting that he "did not know that liking a comment was a crime."

His lawyer, Dilber Demirel, stressed that they would appeal the ruling, while stressing that the conviction stems from a single word that the court deemed an insult, without specifying it.

"We think that the ruling is against the law. Because several rulings in the past had stressed that political personalities should tolerate such harsh criticism," she said.

Demirel also noted that the ruling could be marking a milestone, as it criminalizes the "resharing" of an offensive message shared on social media.

The crime of “insult” is normally punished by three months in prison according to Turkish law. However, if the complainant is a public servant, the prison term is extended to one year. If the “insult” is conveyed “publicly,” such as via a media outlet, the law stipulates an extra one-sixth increase in the prison term.

More than 70 people in Turkey have been prosecuted for “insulting” Erdoğan since he was elected president in August 2014. There were hundreds of similar cases during his term as Turkey's Prime Minister.

In March 2014, while dogged by accusations of corruption soon before crucial local elections, Erdoğan had threatened to shut down Facebook and YouTube “if necessary” via a controversial law, vowing that he "would not sacrifice the Turkish people" to the two websites. 

Most recently, two prominent cartoonists from the popular weekly magazine Penguen received 11-month prison sentences over a satirical piece on free speech which they were convicted of including a hidden gesture “insulting” Erdoğan.

The Vienna-based International Press Institute’s (IPI) Turkish National Committee announced in February that it will start a campaign against the increasing number of defamation lawsuits targeting journalists in Turkey.

The IPI's special report on Turkey released March 27 concluded that defamation suits and arrests targeting journalists threaten Turkey’s democracy.