Turkish journalist Can Ataklı has been indicted for comments critical of a dress code that allowed a public school teacher appear wearing a headscarf during a government-run distance learning program.
The prosecutor deemed Ataklı’s comments a violation of the Turkish Penal Code for “inciting the public to hatred and hostility or humiliating it.” He faces up to one year, six months in prison if convicted.
Turkey’s public broadcaster TRT and the Ministry of Education had jointly set up EBA TV to broadcast online education at a time when schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the indictment, Ataklı was cited as saying on March 23, 2020 on a private TV channel: “[I]t is wrong to give millions of students a headscarved teacher as a role model. Don’t talk to me about the freedom of this or that… There are those who have never seen a headscarved teacher, and there are those who have. But you are starting on the first day [with a headscarved teacher], and there is nothing more disastrous than starting with a headscarved teacher as an image.”
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had earlier initiated an investigation into Ataklı because of his comments.
In his deposition Ataklı was reported to have said that his statement about the EBA TV broadcast did not constitute a crime, that he did not make a degrading statement about anybody’s religious values, and he had no intention of doing so.
The indictment was accepted by the Istanbul Criminal Court of First Instance, opening the way for Ataklı’s trial.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), which monitors the cases of jailed journalists in Turkey, 165 journalists were behind bars as of May 8, 2020, while 167 who were forced into exile are wanted on fabricated terrorism charges. The Turkish government has seized nearly 200 media outlets, including the country’s largest newspaper, Zaman, as well as popular TV networks such as Bugün and Samanyolu since 2015.