Turkish court sentences journalist Mahalli for allegedly insulting Erdoğan

A Syrian-Turkish journalist was handed down a suspended sentence of two years, five months on Thursday for allegedly insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Reuters reported, citing a Turkish court ruling shown to them. 

Hüsnü Mahalli, a prominent journalist who writes columns for the Sözcü newspaper, will not be incarcerated due to time already served and as the ruling is up for appeal. The Turkish court also gave Mahalli a suspended sentence of one year, eight months for insulting public officials.

Mahalli will only serve the lesser sentence if he commits a crime that requires a prison sentence in the next five years, during which time he will be on probation. 

“My client has been sentenced due to the expressions he used in his columns, tweets. These should be regarded within the freedom to criticize. We will appeal the sentence,” Mahalli’s lawyer, Ertuğrul Aydoğan, said.

Mahalli was detained in December 2016 after he accused Turkey of assisting terrorist groups in Syria and called Erdoğan a dictator. He was released in January 2017 pending trial. 

Mahalli defended himself in court, saying he was doing his job, the private Demirören news agency (DHA) reported. “I have not insulted the president. I have always addressed him as Mr. President. The word ‘dictator’ is not an insulting word. I request my acquittal,” he said during his defense, DHA said.

Moreover, in the Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya, a shopkeeper was sentenced to 11 months, 20 days for reading a poem that was judged to be insulting to President Erdoğan, the Diken newspaper reported.

Mustafa Ertem had read the poem as a protest three years ago for being fined 30,000 Turkish lira for selling alcohol past 10 p.m. His prison sentence was suspended. Alcohol sales after 10 p.m. are prohibited by law in the country. Ertem said he read the poem not to insult but to criticise.

Daily ordered to pay damages to parliament speaker for caricature

Meanwhile, another Turkish court on Thursday sentenced the Evrensel daily and caricaturist Sefer Selvi to pay TL 10,000 ($1,800) to Parliament Speaker Binali Yıldırım and his son Erkam Yıldırım for attacking them in public with a caricature published in the newspaper.

Binali Yıldırım (above) says: “When I was entering politics, I told my children not to do business with the public sector”
His son says: “We are staying away from state institutions, as our father told us.” (as tax office sign is shown behind him.)

Selvi’s caricature featured then-Prime Minister Yıldırım and his son’s alleged ties to an offshore company situated in a tax haven that were exposed in 2015 by the Panama Papers, the work of investigative journalists who revealed the corrupt business ties with tax havens of politicians and businesspeople.

Lawyers for the Yıldırım family complained that the caricature depicted Yıldırım and his son as evading taxes and portrayed them as “ridiculous and comical.”

Earlier this week Yıldırım and two of his sons filed a criminal complaint against journalist Pelin Ünker from the Cumhuriyet daily for allegedly “insulting a public official” with her reporting on passages concerning Yıldırım in the Paradise Papers. Ünker had previously been the subject of a lawsuit for damages filed by the Yıldırım family for her reporting.

Turkish authorities have detained tens of thousands of civil servants, journalists, soldiers and others following a failed military coup in July 2016. They have also shut down about 130 media outlets. 

Erdoğan has said some journalists helped nurture terrorists through their writings and that the crackdown is needed to ensure stability in Turkey, a NATO member that borders Syria, Iraq and Iran. 

Critics say Erdoğan is using the post-coup crackdown to muzzle dissent and tighten his grip on power, charges he denies. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has also criticized the crackdown.

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 239 journalists and media workers were in jail as of October 31, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 170 were under arrest pending trial while only 69 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. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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