Article 19 calls for dismissal of charges against Turkish journalist on trial for insulting Islam

Journalist Baransel Ağca

Article 19, a London-based international organization defending free expression worldwide, has called for the dismissal of criminal charges against a journalist who is standing trial due to a tweet about the ban on alcoholic beverages in Islam, Turkish Minute reported.

Journalist Baransel Ağca is charged with “publicly denigrating religious values” in his 2020 tweet. If convicted, he faces between six and 12 months in prison under Article 216/3 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

Prior to a hearing at an İstanbul court on Wednesday, Article 19 submitted an expert opinion that examined the legitimacy of the charges leveled against Ağca in line with international and European human rights standards and regarding the right to freedom of expression.

The organization said Ağca humorously referenced the historical context of the prohibition of alcohol in Islam in his tweet, which was identified by the so-called “virtual patrolling” – a method whereby law enforcement systematically monitors social media to detect perceived illegal or harmful content.

“ARTICLE 19 considers that Ağca’s criminal prosecution violates his right to freedom of expression. We believe that Article 216/3 of the Turkish Penal Code, which forms the basis of Ağca’s prosecution, is incompatible with international and European human rights standards as it fails to satisfy the criteria of legality, necessity and proportionality and should therefore be repealed,” said the group.

Article 19 also called for an end to unlawful surveillance practices that undermine the principles of a democratic society.

Ağca, who currently lives in Germany, is being tried in absentia.

Under the rule of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, it is common for people to face charges of denigrating religious values.

Last year famous Turkish pop singer Sezen Aksu faced legal proceedings due to the lyrics of one of her songs from 2017 on charges of denigrating religious values.

The song, titled “Living Is Something Amazing,” included a sentence that says, “Say hi to that ignorant Adam and Eve,” which was considered an insult of religious values.

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