Turkish journalist goes on trial for insulting Erdoğan in ‘fascist dictatorship’ column

Thursday saw the start of the trial of Kamil Tekin Sürek, a columnist for the Evrensel daily, on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a November 2017 column titled “Fascist dictatorship” in which he argued that in fascist dictatorships criminal charges would be brought against a person after the slightest criticism of the government.

“I don’t understand why Erdoğan took offense at my column,” Sürek told the court on Thursday, the Evrensel daily reported.

The column was written after a case was brought against Ekrem Eşkinat, the mayor of Tekirdağ from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), for insulting Erdoğan by calling him a “fascist dictator.”

CHP Vice Chairman Bülent Tezcan had also called Erdoğan a “fascist dictator” in support of the mayor at the time.

Eşiknat’s case is still pending.

Sürek had written that “fascist dictator” was not an insult but political terminology like “liberal democrat” or “revolutionary communist,” adding if this term had been considered an insult, but not criticism, then the regime would be called a “fascist dictatorship.”

He had also given examples from history, including Adolf Hitler’s Germany, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Zeynel Abidin Bin Ali’s Tunisia, categorizing them as highly sensitive to criticism.

Sürek’s lawyer, Devrim Avcı Özkurt, said the article should have been considered an exercise of freedom of expression, adding that the term “fascist dictatorship” was a criticism of the whole system, not President Erdoğan himself. The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 24.

Meanwhile, a court in western İzmir province on Wednesday ordered the arrest of five people who allegedly swore at President Erdoğan ahead of a rally held for Muharrem İnce, the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) presidential candidate. The suspects were charged with insulting a state leader.

Prosecutors launched an investigation after video footage allegedly showing people shouting expletives against Erdoğan at a restaurant was shared on social media. İnce held a massive rally in the city on June 21 as part of his election campaign.

Seven people had already been arrested on the same charges in İzmir, bringing the number of people remanded in the same case to 12. Prosecutors had issued detention warrants for a total of 15 people in connection with the case. Two of them were released on probation while one suspect was released by prosecutors.

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 244 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 21, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 184 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 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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