Turkey arrests TV journalist for insulting President Erdoğan

Turkey has arrested a well-known television journalist for comments she made on-air about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Agence France-Presse reported on Saturday, citing her lawyer.

An investigation was launched into Sedef Kabaş on allegations of insulting the president on Friday, and police raided her house in Sarıyer in the early hours of Saturday and detained her.

She was formally arrested after appearing in court.

The crime of insulting the president carries a jail sentence of one to four years in Turkey.

Kabaş was investigated for insulting Erdoğan after ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu,  Environment Minister Murat Kurum, and presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın pointed to her as a target over her comments about the president during a debate program on pro-opposition broadcaster TELE1.

Commenting on Erdoğan’s years-long performance as president during the television program, Kabaş said, quoting a Circassian proverb, “When an [ox] enters a palace, it doesn’t become a king. [However], that palace becomes a barn.”

Kabaş also posted the proverb on Twitter.

“A so-called journalist is blatantly insulting our president on a television channel that has no goal other than spreading hatred,” Erdoğan’s chief spokesman Fahrettin Altun said on Twitter.

“I condemn this arrogance, this immorality in the strongest possible terms. This is not only immoral, it is also irresponsible,” Altun said.

The Turkish journalists’ union called Kabaş’s arrest a “serious attack on freedom of expression”.

Meanwhile, an investigation was also launched into TELE1 on Friday by Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), due to Kabaş’s comments on Erdoğan.

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 the president 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.

Rights groups routinely accuse Turkey of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 153rd out of 180 in its 2021 press freedom index.

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