Exiled journalist faces 10-year prison sentence for insulting Erdoğan

Journalist Hayko Bağdat

A Turkish prosecutor has demanded up to 10 and a half years in prison for Hayko Bağdat, a Turkish-Armenian journalist based in Germany, on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Wednesday.

Bağdat, who is being tried in absentia, has denied the charges, which were filed against him due to his columns and social media posts in 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Veysel Ok, a lawyer representing Bağdat and head of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), said the elements in the indictment do not amount to a criminal offense.

“We have so many cases [against us] that we cannot even keep track,” Bağdat told Artı Gerçek. “What can I have said that would require me going to prison for 10 years? All of this is part of an unlawful crackdown aimed at silencing dissent.”

Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey, according to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Whoever insults the president can face up to four years in prison, a sentence that can be increased if the crime was committed through the mass media.

Since Turkey’s transition to a presidential system of governance through a popular constitutional referendum in 2017, the president is no longer required to be politically impartial.

Yet the law criminalizing the insults against the president has remained in effect and has led to the conviction of more than 10,000 people since Erdoğan took office in 2014.

Turkey is often described as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, and it was ranked 165th out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

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