Journalist given suspended jail sentences for insulting Erdoğan, far-right leader

A Turkish court has handed down two suspended sentences of 11 months, 20 days each to Mehmet Emin Kurnaz, an editor at the BirGün daily, for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his far-right ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli in a May 2021 report on allegations of mafia-state collusion, the Turkish Minute reported, citing the BirGün news website.

On May 25, 2021 BirGün’s weekend supplement included a story headlined “Rule of the Gangs.”

The story included photos of gang leader Sedat Peker with Erdoğan and of Bahçeli with Alaattin Çakıcı, a convicted crime boss.

Peker, who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates and is wanted by the Turkish government, sent shock waves throughout the country in the summer of 2021 with scandalous revelations on social media about state-mafia relations, drug trafficking and murders implicating former and current state officials and their family members. He has long remained silent out of concern for his safety but has recently become active again on social media, making shocking allegations about some people close to the government.

BirGün’s story prompted a criminal case against Kurnaz, who received the suspended sentences.

Thousands of people in Turkey are under investigation, and most of them are under the threat of imprisonment, over alleged insults of President Erdoğan. The insult cases generally stem from social media posts shared by Erdoğan opponents. The Turkish police and judiciary perceive even the most minor criticism of Erdoğan or his government as an insult.

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.

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