June 27, 2014

Court issues fine for usage of ‘hashashin' against Hizmet

The Ankara 18th Criminal Court has convicted head of the Turkish Aviation Board (THK) Ünsal İnaltekin of employing hate speech against the Hizmet movement of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen for suggesting that the followers of the movement are “hashashin” via Twitter.

The term is derived from the Arabic word for “assassin” and refers to the Hashashi, an 11th-century order that posed a strong threat to the Sunni Seljuk Empire.

The court ruled that the defamatory language used against the Hizmet movement following the Dec. 17, 2013 graft scandal – implicating Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his inner circle in corruption charges – is considered hate speech, and İnaltekin has been fined TL 2,180.

In a tweet, İnaltekin labeled Hayrettin Açıkgöz, the president of the Law and Life Association, as “hashashin, devil.” The head of the THK stated: “Your leader, Feto (Fethullah Gülen), is so tactless as to call the prime minister ‘friend.' Don't bite the hand that feeds you, hashashins. It's become clear that you are hashashins in service of the devil. We will stone you, one and all.”

In response, Açıkgöz filed a criminal complaint against İnaltekin for what he considered libelous tweets. The court's decision stated that the phrases “hashashin,” and “devil” are defamatory. The decision also stated that, as the tweet was published on the Internet, it was visible to everyone and hence is considered hate speech.

Due to the fact that the defendant committed more than one act of hate speech, he was sentenced to 131 days in jail, which was later reduced to 109. The punishment was later replaced with a fine of TL 2,180 and he was ordered to pay attorney fees of TL 1,500.

According to a report by Turkish daily Bugün, İnaltekin has disputed the claims that his tweets were libelous, claiming he did not defame anyone but rather simply responded to the tweets concerning the deportation of Today's Zaman reporter Mahir Zeynalov in early February.

Zeynalov was deported on Feb. 7 after the Prime Ministry Coordination Center (BİMER) decided that he was using his Twitter account to spread “statements contrary to the facts.” In his complaints about the tweets that Zeynalov posted on Dec. 25, 2013, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the tweets included “heavy insults and swear words in a bid to provoke the nation to hatred and animosity.” The complaint also alleges that the Today's Zaman journalist “committed a crime by exceeding the limit of criticism.”

A smear campaign aimed at the Hizmet movement started to sweep across mainstream and social media in Turkey after the graft scandal came to public attention on Dec. 17. Erdoğan portrayed the corruption scandal as a means used to weaken his party's image ahead of the critical municipal elections of March 30, from which the AK Party walked away victorious.

Erdoğan considers the Hizmet movement the biggest threat to his 12 years as the prime minister of Turkey. As a result, he and members of his party have been publicly using insulting language towards Gülen and his followers, a move that has given AK Party members and supporters further motivation to defame Gülen followers in different public arenas.

Although Erdoğan has never named Gülen directly, he has called the cleric's followers "terrorists” and members of a "parallel state,” claiming that the graft probe is a coup against his rule and vowing to exterminate Gülen's followers in their “lairs.” Erdoğan's government reassigned thousands of police officers and purged hundreds of prosecutors in a series of major reshuffles, actions critics say have enabled the prime minister to impede any investigation of corruption.

Published on Cihan, 27 June 2014, Friday