Turkey detains TV journalist over comments about president

The crime of insulting the president carries a jail sentence of up to four years

Thousands of people have been convicted of insulting Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the past eight years. AFP
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Turkey has detained a well-known television journalist for comments she made on air about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Police detained Sedef Kabas at her home at 2am on Saturday, hours after she aired the comments, then posted them on Twitter to her 900,000 followers.

She was formally arrested after appearing in court.

The crime of insulting the president carries a jail sentence of one to four years in Turkey.

The alleged insult was in the form of a palace-related proverb that Kabas expressed both on an opposition television channel and on her Twitter account, drawing condemnation from government officials.

Merdan Yanardag, chief editor of the Tele 1 channel on which Kabas made the comment, sharply criticised her arrest.

“Her detention overnight at 2am because of a proverb is unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter. “This stance is an attempt to intimidate journalists, the media and society.”

“A so-called journalist is blatantly insulting our president on a television channel that has no goal other than spreading hatred,” Erdogan's chief spokesman Fahrettin Altun said.

“I condemn this arrogance, this immorality in the strongest possible terms. This is not only immoral, it is also irresponsible.”

But the Turkish journalists' union called Kabas's arrest a “serious attack on freedom of expression".

Last October, Europe's top human rights court called on Turkey to change the legislation after ruling that a man's detention under the law violated his freedom of expression.

Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Mr Erdogan in the seven years since he moved from being prime minister to president.

In 2020, 31,297 investigations were launched in relation to the charge, 7,790 cases were filed and 3,325 resulted in convictions, according to Justice Ministry data. Those numbers were slightly lower than in the previous year.

Since 2014, the year Erdogan became president, 160,169 investigations were launched over insulting the president, 35,507 cases were filed and there were 12,881 convictions.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 153rd out of 180 in its 2021 press freedom index.

Updated: January 23, 2022, 7:40 AM
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