3 Turkish newspapers targeted in defamation case for reporting on parliamentary question

Deputy Health Minister Sabahattin Aydın, Photo: Turkish Ministry of Health

Three Turkish dailies were targeted in a civil lawsuit for reporting on a parliamentary question about claims that a company partly owned by the spouse and the son of the deputy health minister was awarded numerous public tenders by the ministry, the Bianet news website reported.

Deputy Health Minister Sabahattin Aydın demanded that the Cumhuriyet, Birgün and Evrensel newspapers pay TL 100,000 ($11,500) each in compensation, claiming that their reports had damaged his reputation.

Devrim Avcı, lawyer for the Evrensel daily, protested the lawsuit, saying, “If a newspaper can’t report on the parliamentary question of a lawmaker, then what can it report on?”

“The media is responsible for revealing the truth. … The story in question involves the gifting of public resources to those close to the government,” Avcı added.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Murat Emir had posed a parliamentary question in June to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca about allegations that Bilbest, a company partly owned by the spouse and the son of Deputy Health Minister Aydın, was awarded numerous public tenders.

Aydın said his wife was one of the founders of the company but had transferred her shares 18 years ago to other founders. He also said his son had some shares in the firm that he was given while working there as a developer but had left the company and transferred the shares to an unknown party in 2020.

The Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists on Thursday issued a media freedom alert about the cases, requesting a response from the Turkish government. The platform “aims to improve the protection of journalists, better address threats and violence against media professionals and foster early warning mechanisms and response capacity within the Council of Europe.”

Turkish journalists are often targeted and jailed for their journalistic activities. Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of professional journalists and ranked 153rd among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.

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