Turkish journalist sentenced in absentia for insulting Erdoğan

Journalist Hayko Bağdat

Journalist Hayko Bağdat, a Turkish-Armenian journalist based in Germany, has been given a 14-month suspended sentence for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Wednesday.

The prosecution argued that a 2017 article by Bağdat on the Özgürüz news website and social media posts from 2014, 2018 and 2019 contained insults against the president and other public officials, calling for a conviction on these charges.

Bağdat, who was being tried in absentia, has denied the charges.

The prosecutor found that the elements of “inciting hatred and hostility among the public” were not met in Bağdat’s social media posts and recommended acquittal on this charge.

The court concurred, acquitting Bağdat of “insulting a public official” and “inciting hatred and hostility.” Nonetheless, for a July 24, 2019 social media post, Bağdat was convicted of “insulting the president.” The court’s decision to suspend the sentence means that Bağdat will not serve time unless he commits a similar offense in the next five years.

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

Turkey is often described as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, and it was ranked 165th out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

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.

Since Turkey’s transition to a presidential system of governance through a constitutional referendum in 2017, the president is no longer required to be politically impartial.

Yet the law criminalizing the insults against the president has remained in effect and has led to the conviction of more than 10,000 people since Erdoğan took office in 2014.

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