Another probe against the press
Another court case has been opened by an Istanbul court against Sedat Ergin, Hürriyet’s editor-in-chief, and Ekrem Dumanlı, Zaman’s former editor-in-chief, accusing them of insulting the president in two separate stories on their newspapers’ websites, while two other journalist, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief and Ankara office chief respectively, are to complete their first month behind bars tomorrow, Dec. 26.
The 54th Bakirköy court judge, Adnan Budak, decided on Dec. 15 that Ergin and Dumanlı would be tried for insulting the president, which may mean anywhere from 1 to 4 years in jail according to Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code.
The judge based his decision on an indictment by prosecutor İdris Kurt upon a complaint by President Tayyip Erdoğan’s lawyer, Ahmet Özel; in his indictment, prosecutor Kurt makes it clear that the probe was opened after permission was given by the justice minister (Bekir Bozdağ), as stated by law.
The website story in question was published on Sept. 6, when a story headline misquoted President Erdoğan’s remarks after outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants attacked and killed 16 Turkish soldiers in the mountainous Dağlıca area near the Iraqi border. The title suggested that Erdoğan had said that if there were 400 deputies in the parliament (the sufficient parliamentary majority needed to shift to his long-desired presidential system), such attacks would not have happened. Hürriyet immediately withdrew the story after understanding that the title as a misquote. Pro-AK Parti crowds attacked Hürriyet Istanbul headquarters later that night and on Sept. 8 as well, damaging the building. Hürriyet later wrote an apology to the public about the misreported story.
The indictment claims that the story intended to attack the president’s individual rights, going beyond the limits of criticism as mentioned in the European Human Rights Convention. As such, the journalists have been called to appear before a court March 25, 2016.
There is an interesting detail on the probe opened against Ergin and Dumanlı, which could be linked with the political ramifications of the case.
Dumanlı has already resigned from the editorial post of Zaman newspaper, which is known to be close to the line of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist ideologue now living in the U.S. A close ally of Erdoğan up until two years ago, Gülen is now considered as an arch enemy by Erdoğan, accused of trying to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government by establishing a “parallel state within the state apparatus” through a secret organization. Dumanlı has claimed in his resignation that pressures on him had played a role in his decision.
Hürriyet, on the other hand, has been advocating an independent, liberal, non-partisan policy for nearly 70 years in its publication. Its honorary chairman, Aydın Doğan, stated after the incident in an open letter published in the paper that Hürriyet is not a part of the political struggle and thus has no intentions to be in a campaign against the government. Vuslat Doğan Sabancı, Hürriyet’s chairwoman, has stated in public that all Hürriyet was trying to do was to keep up its line of independent journalism and would not be deterred by attacks. Ergin, a prominent journalist renowned for his balanced reporting, has penned an editorial stating that there was no bad intention in the misreporting and Hürriyet was determined to continue its editorial policy.
Though it was clearly stated that the reports in Hürriyet and Zaman are “separate acts,” the court decided to try Ergin and Dumanlı together, as if the reporting of these two newspapers were part of the same move. In the current political atmosphere of trying to create the perception that every possible criticism of the government is somehow linked to the Gülenists (including statements of the opposition parties), one can only hope that the court decision will not be a part of a political campaign but, rather, a search of truth and justice.