December 13, 2015

Prison sentence for someone else’s tweet

Sevgi Akarcesme

We've known for a long time that Turkey is an “arbitrocracy,” as I call it, in which everything depends on the decisions and mood of one person alone, no matter who seems to occupy certain political posts.

In other words, this is a system that holds the 77 million people in Turkey hostage to one person's will. It would be wrong to expect justice and fairness from such a system, but I was still expecting to be acquitted in a trial in which I, alongside Bülent Keneş and Today's Zaman Managing Editor Celil Sağır, was accused of insulting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. I would not have guessed reason and commonsense would be taken away from a country's judicial system this much, but in a bundled case, we were all brought together in an effort to punish the whole Today's Zaman team at the same time. All three of us received a suspended prison sentence in the same indictment that is full of nonsense.

I will explain the obvious problem with the accusations, not to influence those who are under the spell of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) media machine or seek forgiveness from anyone, but to leave a note on history. Without a doubt, the legal system here is full of ridiculous cases that would comprise literature on its own. Mine will only be an addition. The irony is that the plaintiff is someone who argues on every media outlet that he cares about freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Let me quote exactly from the indictment so that you can see the degree of nonsense yourself. Here are the messages I am accused of:

“The messages posted by username @segistanbul [the misspelled username is the prosecutor's own mistake] ‘Of course a big liar PUPPET OF THE PALACE, SCUMBAG. He is supposed to be a professor while he cannot even be himself' and ‘Davutoğlu whom we thought was a democrat academic has taken his place in history as the prime minister who eliminated press freedom from the government that covered up corruption. Bravo'.”

The first message does not belong to me and I clearly stated this to the judge in court. The indictment already states that the message belongs to username @ahmet06kyk, which no longer exists and whose identity is anonymous. Even a child with some inkling of how social media works would know I cannot be responsible for someone else's insult, but Davutoğlu's lawyer said I should have prevented it and the judge took such an ignorant remark seriously. Having combined someone's insult with my completely critical message, the judge sentenced me to one year, five months and 15 days imprisonment. If this is how the judicial system works, anyone can leave a problematic comment on a person's timeline on Twitter! The anonymous account could even be a troll hired by the AKP. The fact that we were sentenced to prison in such a case is proof in and of itself that media freedoms in Turkey have been eliminated. This is a case that has multiple bizarre dimensions.

I had the intention to write about another subject, but Turkey has turned into a place in which journalists are kept busy with nonsensical cases in order to intimidate and silence them. We are not allowed to report from the field, conduct interviews or do research as legal cases serve as chains.

It is more than obvious now that the real problem in Turkey is freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Yet, some still argue this is a clash between the Gülen movement and the AKP. Even if the movement is completely eliminated, Turkey's problems will not disappear. On the contrary, one of the biggest forces fighting for democracy in Turkey will be gone.

Now please allow me to continue with my work on looking for the alleged insult against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in one of my columns in the Zaman daily. One has to congratulate the jurists of the “new Turkey” for being able to create insult out of nothing!

Published on Today's Zaman, 12 December 2015, Saturday