Turkish columnist sentenced to prison for criticizing Defense Minister Akar

Prominent Turkish columnist Yılmaz Özdil was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment on Tuesday for criticizing then-Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar on a TV program back in November 2017, Turkish media reported.

In the program, which was televised on the pro-opposition Halk TV, Özdil had said, “God forbid, let alone going to war I wouldn’t even go for a walk with Hulusi Akar.”

Akar had taken issue with Özdil’s comments and went to court, accusing him of using derogatory language to undermine trust in commanding officers.

In his defense Özdil said he was speaking about the importance of competence in government. “It wasn’t directed at Hulusi Akar. Rather than undermining the chain of command, I was trying to highlight the importance of the position of chief of general staff. … We have all learned what can happen if people in such positions fail to demonstrate competence. The July 15 coup attempt is the most recent example of it,” he said.

Turkey experienced a controversial military coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016 which, according to many, was a false flag aimed at entrenching Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule by rooting out dissidents and eliminating powerful actors such as the military in his desire for absolute power.

Gen Akar claimed he was held hostage at an airbase outside Ankara by the coup plotters. Yet, the CCTV footage of the night showed Akar leaving the headquarters and taking a helicopter without any sign of coercion. In one scene, Akar was seen asking one of his would-be abductors to bring his cap and the soldier rushing to follow his orders.

According to the testimony of several soldiers, including the commander of Akıncı Airbase, Brig. Gen. Hakan Evrim, and former Air Forces Commander Gen. Akın Öztürk, Akar was not a hostage at Akıncı Airbase and went there of his own volition on the night of the coup.

The abortive putsch killed 251 people and wounded more than a thousand others. The next morning, after announcing that the coup had been foiled, the Turkish government immediately started a huge purge of military officers, judges, police officers, teachers and other government officials, which ultimately led to the summary dismissal of more than 150,000 public servants from their jobs.

Following the hearings the court ruled that Özdil’s words were meant to undermine chain of command and damage trust in commanding officers and sentenced him to five months’ imprisonment. The court also ruled to defer Özdil’s sentence, meaning he will only go to prison if he is convicted of a similar crime in the future.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists” in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, in which Turkey was ranked 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.

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