Journalist Hakkı Boltan should not go to prison for exercising his freedom of speech, CPJ says

Journalist Hakkı Boltan, who was sentenced to prison on charges of insulting government officials, should not go to prison for exercising his freedom of speech, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement on Tuesday.

The charges stemmed from a public statement Boltan gave in 2016, when he served as chair of the Free Journalists Association, in which he expressed concern over the death of Rohat Aktaş, editor-in-chief of the Kurdish-language Azadiya Welat daily, in the city of Cizre and blamed Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and then-Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu for the violence.

According to the Bianet news website, Aktaş was injured in Cizre while covering the ongoing security operations during a curfew. He took refuge in the basement of a building and was killed there.

In his statement Boltan had said: “A great atrocity happened in Cizre; humanity was massacred before the eyes of the whole world. Upon the instructions of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the state forces are committing a dirty massacre under the pretext of clearing [the area of armed militants]. They give instructions to the press to cover up the dirty massacres.”

Boltan was sentenced to two years, 17 days’ imprisonment and is free pending appeal.

“Turkey must not contest the appeal of journalist and press freedom advocate Hakkı Boltan, who should not go to prison for exercising his freedom of speech,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Turkish authorities should make the necessary legal reforms so that journalists need not live in fear of arbitrary imprisonment for insulting state figures.”

Turkey was ranked 153rd among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in April.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 173 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.

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