October 10, 2015

Editor-in-chief arrested over tweet

Bülent Keneş, the editor-in-chief of Turkey's leading English daily, Today's Zaman, was arrested on Friday in İstanbul over his tweets allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In the run-up to next month's parliamentary elections, the Turkish government's attempts at intimidation of independent and critical journalists by abusing the criminal justice system have increased in intensity and frequency.

On Friday alone, two veteran columnists with the Sözcü daily were convicted and sentenced to almost a year in prison for allegedly insulting President Erdoğan and his advisors. Keneş was arrested later that day after the same court had previously declined to arrest him on charges of allegedly insulting the president on Twitter.

Keneş, already targeted in several criminal complaints, two lawsuits for damages and six investigations on frivolous defamation cases launched by Erdoğan, his advisors and associates in the government, was in the newsroom working on the weekend edition of the paper while waiting for the police to come in and take him him into detention.

The persecution of Keneş comes amid government-directed moves to remove seven independent TV networks from the Digiturk and Tivibu media platforms, which prompted an outcry from opposition parties, human rights defenders, media outlets and consumer advocacy groups. The climate of fear for journalists reached a new level with the physical assault of Hürriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan and police threatening a reporter in the Southeast with a gun pointed at his head.

In the last year alone, hundreds of people including prominent intellectuals, journalists and citizens were compelled to appear in court on charges of violating Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), frequently used as the basis for cases alleging insult of the president. This unprecedented development reflects the worrying trend of limiting free speech and free expression in Turkey.

Published on Today's Zaman, 9 October 2015, Saturday