Longtime gov’t critic Sözcü newspaper slapped with $1.8 million tax fine for 2018: report

Turkish opposition newspaper Sözcü was levied a tax fine of TL 14.5 million ($1.8 million) for the year 2018 over what the paper on Wednesday said in a front-page report were baseless accusations by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Turkish Minute reported.

“You will never succeed in preventing Sözcü from expanding even if you hand us tax fines, issue public advertising bans or throw us in jail,” the daily said, addressing the AKP government.

According to the report Turkey’s Press Advertisement Agency (BİK), a state body that distributes public sector advertisements among media outlets, issued a 10-day advertising ban on Sözcü for December 2020.

“The government-led oppression targeting Sözcü, which has always reported the truth without compromising its Kemalist editorial line, has been ongoing since the daily was founded [in 2007]. Despite all this intimidation and punishment, Sözcü has managed to stand tall. We won’t submit to anyone. You will not stop us. You will not silence us,” the daily said in the report.

Sözcü also said the paper paid the highest taxes among Turkey’s print press outlets, paying TL 6 million ($767,000) in 2018 and TL 10.5 million ($1.3 million) in 2019.

In October the prison sentences of nine journalists from Sözcü who were charged with supporting the Gülen movement were upheld by the İstanbul Regional Appeals Court.

The İstanbul 37th High Criminal Court had sentenced columnists Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru to three years, six months; executive editor Metin Yılmaz and Internet editor Mustafa Çetin to three years, four months; and news coordinator Yücel Arı, correspondent Gökmen Ulu and accountant Yonca Yücekaleli to one year, 13 months each for “aiding a terrorist organization without holding membership in it.”

The accusations were based on reports published by the newspaper raising concerns about human rights violations that people accused of membership in the Gülen movement have been subjected to.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Çölaşan and Doğru wrote several columns that included letters from Turkish prisoners who were jailed for alleged membership in the Gülen movement, detailing their ordeals.

They were sentenced to three years, six months in prison, while Yılmaz and Çetin received just over three years. Arı, Yücelan and Ulu were sentenced to two years.

One of the leading jailers of journalists in the world, Turkey was ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in April.

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