Prosecutor seeks prison sentence for journalist who returned to Turkey for election campaign

Journalist Cengiz Çandar (L) with his lawyers

A prosecutor demanded a prison sentence for a veteran Turkish journalist the day after he returned to Turkey to run for a seat in parliament after seven years of living abroad, due to a tweet posted six years ago, Turkish Minute reported, citing the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA).

Cengiz Çandar, 75, appeared before an İstanbul court on Monday for a trial in which he faces charges of “praising crime and criminals” in a 2017 tweet decrying the death of a woman killed while fighting Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in northern Syria.

The journalist returned to Turkey on Sunday from the French city of Nice where he was spending the winter.

Ayşe Deniz Karacagil was killed in northern Syria in May 2017 while fighting alongside the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militant group that spearheaded the fight against the self-proclaimed ISIL caliphate. Karacagil became famous in Turkey after standing trial on terrorism charges for wearing a red neckscarf during the countrywide anti-government protests in 2013 that erupted over plans to demolish Gezi Park in the Taksim neighborhood of İstanbul.

Upon Karacagil’s death, Çandar tweeted, “The girl wearing a red scarf [Karacagil], the angel of Gezi with the most beautiful smile warming our hearts, has fallen before Raqqa and risen to the stars, once again searing our hearts.”

An investigation was launched two years after the tweet was posted, culminating in legal proceedings in July 2020. The first hearing of the trial was held in İstanbul in January 2021. Çandar did not attend since he was living abroad at the time.

The journalist left Turkey for Sweden in May 2016 upon the invitation of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies (SUITS) to work as a visiting scholar.

Ankara maintains that the YPG is indistinguishable from Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); hence, Karacagil’s association with the YPG is deemed a “crime” by the country’s judiciary.

During Monday’s hearing, the prosecutor presented his final opinion and asked the court to sentence Çandar to two years in prison on charges of praising crime and criminals.

Çandar denied the charges and demanded his acquittal, saying that as a father, he was moved by a social media post about Karacagil and did not even know the woman’s name at the time.

The trial was adjourned until May 16.

Monday’s hearing was scheduled for Tuesday but was moved to Monday because Çandar will attend a meeting of the Green Left Party (YSP) on Tuesday where the party’s parliamentary candidates will be introduced.

Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14.

Çandar has been nominated by the YSP from the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır, where it is almost certain that he will be elected.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) decided to run under the banner of the YSP in the parliamentary elections in a bid to circumvent the risks that could emerge from its possible closure ahead of the elections.

Çandar is known for his work on the Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse that refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition. He has written several books on the Kurdish issue.

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