Turkish court sentences 3 journalists for allegedly insulting President Erdoğan

A Turkish court in İstanbul handed down sentences to journalists Hüseyin Aykol, İnan Kızılkaya and İhsan Çaralan on Thursday for allegedly insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The trial of Aykol, former co-executive editor of the npro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper, as well as editor-in-chief of the daily İnan Kızılkaya and columnist İhsan Çaralan was held at the İstanbul 2nd High Criminal Court.

The Özgür Gündem daily was shut down by a government decree under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

According to a report by the pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency (ANF), the three journalists and their lawyers attended the hearing. The court sentenced Aykol and Kızılkaya to 18 months in prison for “insulting the president” and increased the sentence to 21 months because the journalists had committed the alleged crime publicly.

The court also handed down a one-year suspended sentence to Çaralan subject to non-commission of the same crime for the next five years.

Hundreds of people in Turkey, including even high school students, face charges of insulting President Erdoğan. The slightest criticism is considered an insult, and there has been a rise in the number of cases in which people inform on others claiming that they insulted the president, the government or government officials. According to the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) insulting the president carries a sentence of between one and four years.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of October 7, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 148 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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