Zaman columnists to testify in court over insulting President Erdogan

According to the letters sent from the Bakırkoy Public Prosecutor’s Office dated Dec. 4, which reached Akarcesme and Turkone on Monday, the two columnists were asked to testify within seven days with the necessary documents and evidence to vindicate themselves.

The letters, signed by Bakırkoy Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Kadir Yılmaz, cited Turkone and Akarcesme’s articles in Zaman on Oct. 27 and Nov. 20, respectively, in which they allegedly insulted the president.

In April Turkone testified before a court in İstanbul for the same charge over an article that appeared in the Zaman daily on March 16, 2014, in which he criticized Erdogan for provoking people from Alevi and Sunni backgrounds.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also sued Akarcesme in February for her Twitter posts that were critical of Davutoglu.

According to a recent human rights report released by Republican People’s Party (CHP) İstanbul deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu on Saturday, hundreds of people have been charged and others detained after being accused of insulting Erdogan since he was elected president in August 2014. In the past 10 months, 98 people have been taken into custody on charges of insulting the president, Tanrıkulu said at a press conference on Saturday.

Journalists and public figures critical of the government have been targeted by police and prosecutors on the grounds that they have insulted the head of the state.

The report said the charge is widely considered a new method of intimidating political opponents who do not share the government’s views. Dozens of people, including high-profile media figures Sedef Kabas, Hidayet Karaca and Mehmet Baransu, students, activists and even Merve Buyuksarac — a former Miss Turkey — have been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bulent Kenes was arrested by the İstanbul 7th Penal Court of Peace on Oct. 10 and detained until a release pending trial was ordered on Oct. 14 over tweets that allegedly insulted President Erdogan.

Kenes’s arrest attracted worldwide condemnation, with a number of press organizations and journalists in Turkey denouncing the ruling, saying that it goes against the principle of media freedom.

In October 2015 Aydın-based physician Dr. Bilgin Ciftci was expelled from the Public Health Institution of Turkey (THSK) after sharing a meme that compared images of Erdogan to the fictional Gollum character in the “The Lord of the Rings” movies, known for his grotesque appearance, showing them both eating, expressing surprise and amazement, which apparently insulted the president.

Because no decision was reached in the fourth hearing of the case, the court demanded that an expert panel investigate Gollum’s character to decide whether a comparison with him is an insult.