Newspaper editor arrested for insulting Turkey’s president on Twitter

Erdogan with Twitter logo whispering in ear

Αλέξης Τσίπρας Πρωθυπουργός της Ελλάδας/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

Turkey’s crackdown on journalists continues.

The editor-in-chief of a major Turkish newspaper has been jailed for the crime of tweeting insults about the country’s president.

Bülent Kene?, who heads the daily Today’s Zaman, is a frequent critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, who’s presided over a number of crackdowns on journalists in recent months. On Friday, that crackdown reached Kene? himself.

The charges were the same as have been previously leveled against other journalists—“insulting the President.” They’re based off of 12 tweets he posted in August.

One of the prosecuted tweets is a caricature from another newspaper, showing Erdo?an nervously taking notes about activities around his palace. Kene? just added the comment “Paranoid!”

In another tweet, Kene? listed undesirable qualities in a president, with the implication that this was a description of Erdo?an: “One who disrespects democratic precedents, violating laws, breaching the constitution cannot be the president!”

He then shared some observations about Erdo?an and the rest of the society: “He hates 60 percent of the society, he sees them as his enemy, and that 60 percent hates him back. He cannot be the president!”

Kene? even mentioned the President by name: “Since he is associated with play politics, conspiracies and organised crime, @RT_Erdogan has no legitimacy as a president”

He also quoted the main opposition party leader: “We all know how you lined your pockets. We all very well know how you end up winning all the marbles,” adding “This is how Erdo?an is known.”

If these tweets don’t sound impartial and unbiased, nor the news, there’s a good reason. Kene? and Zaman are close to the Gülen Movement, named after charismatic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who has been living in Pennsylvania since 1999. Erdo?an and Gülen were allies for years, but had a falling in 2014. Gülenists close to the Erdo?an administration aired all the dirty laundry for revenge—hence the source of tapes that detailed Erdo?an’s apparent corruption.

But in the end, these tweets don’t incite hatred or violence against Erdo?an, meaning their illegality is extremely questionable. But courts are increasingly politicised in Turkey, especially over matters of speech. When Kene? was arrested and put into jail last week, manager of a sister TV channel, Hidayet Karaca, had been behind bars since last December. Karaca’s prosecutor claimed the manager put secret messages into his soap opera script to deliver orders to police chiefs via TV broadcast.

The Turkish government’s crackdown on pro-Gülen media does not seem to end anytime soon. 20 days ahead of the next Parliamentary election, all TV channels of the group have been banned from cable networks and digital TV platforms.

Journalists in Erdo?an’s Turkey may seem paranoid, they have increasingly good reason to be so.

Photo via ?????? ??????? ???????????? ??? ???????/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

Efe Kerem Sozeri

Efe Kerem Sozeri

Efe Kerem Sözeri is a Turkish freelance researcher who lives in the Netherlands. After studying political science in Istanbul, he moved to Amsterdam to study migrants' political behavior. Besides his academic work, he regularly writes on internet freedom and censorship in Turkey.