A well-known Turkish journalist was released from prison Friday despite being convicted of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, her lawyer said.
Sedef Kabas was sentenced to two years and four months at the first hearing in Istanbul but was released after spending nearly seven weeks in prison, pending an appeal against the verdict, her lawyer Bahar Unluer Ozturk told Reuters.
The case highlighted the use of a law under which tens of thousands of people have been prosecuted since Erdogan became president in 2014 following more than a decade as prime minister. The offense carries a maximum four-year prison term.
The journalist, who has hosted a series of high-profile TV shows over a career spanning three decades, was arrested after she cited a proverb on television and social media referring to an ox.
Turkey has come under international pressure to change the insult law. In October, the European Court of Human Rights said a man’s freedom of expression was violated when he was detained in 2017 under the insult law.
Thousands of people have been tried and convicted under the law covering insults to the president in Turkey, including pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, one of most prominent opposition figures.
Turkey is one of the world’s top jailer of journalists and mainstream media is controlled by those close to President Tayyip Erdogan’s government, with coverage favouring his administration.
Kabas was acquitted of additional charges of insulting Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Transportation Minister Adil Karaismailoglu, Ozturk added.
The alleged insult was in the form of a proverb related to a palace that Kabas uttered both on an opposition television channel and on her Twitter account. Her comments at the time drew condemnation from government officials, who appeared to take them as referring to Erdogan and the presidential palace.
“There is a very famous proverb that says that a crowned head becomes wiser. But we see it is not true,” she said on the Tele1 channel. “A bull does not become king just by entering the palace, but the palace becomes a barn.”
While the Turkish government has not commented publicly on the law, members of Erdogan’s AK Party at the time decried Kabas’ comments, calling them “unacceptable” and “immoral.”
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stated in October that the legislation outlawing insults to the Turkish president should be changed, after ruling that freedom of expression was violated due to detentions imposed under the law.
More than 160,000 investigations were launched on suspicion of insults to Erdogan since 2014, the year he became president, with more than 12,880 convictions. More than 31,000 investigations were launched in 2020.
The ECHR said Turkey’s law affords the head of state a privileged status regarding the expression of information and opinion about them. It said the law should be amended to ensure people have the freedom to hold opinions and impart ideas without interference by authorities. [AP, Reuters, Kathimerini]