Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed a legal complaint against the editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, Bülent Keneş, over messages on the microblogging site Twitter, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Thursday.
In a complaint filed with the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office, Erdoğan’s lawyers claimed that Keneş insulted the prime minister in his Twitter messages as part of a smear campaign against the prime minister.
Erdoğan’s lawyers claimed that Keneş is part of the so-called “parallel structure,” a derogatory term Erdoğan and his aides use to refer to the Hizmet movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen that is active in education, charity, interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
The attorneys alleged that Erdoğan became a target of character assassination by Keneş after the prime minister vowed to fight the parallel structure.
Erdoğan has accused Hizmet of orchestrating a coup against his government in the guise of corruption investigations that have implicated his family members and close associates. Four ministers were forced to resign after the corruption probe was exposed on Dec. 17 of last year. A parliamentary investigation commission is looking into allegations of bribes, influence-peddling and forgery that prosecutors have claimed was committed by the former ministers.
Gülen has denied orchestrating the corruption investigation and any effort to bring down Erdoğan’s government.
The prime minister’s lawyers stated in their complaint that Keneş used the language of war and attacked Erdoğan by saying in a tweet that “now they [the government] want to destroy our [media] group.” They also alleged that Keneş exposed police chiefs and prosecutors who have been investigating the parallel structure, a probe that has been revealed to be part of anti-Hizmet plot and criticized by opposition parties and jurists as an illegal “witch hunt.”
The lawyers claimed that the Today’s Zaman editor’s comments exceeded the limits of freedom of expression and acceptable criticism, and asked the prosecutor’s office to launch a criminal investigation of Keneş on charges of “insulting a public official.” They also asked for heavy sentencing, citing that it is a repeat offense.
Ironically, the petition acknowledged that Keneş did not specifically cite Erdoğan’s name in his tweets, yet it alleged that he was clearly referring to the prime minister in his comments.
Erdoğan previously filed another complaint against Keneş and three other journalists, Zaman Deputy Editor-in-Chief Mehmet Kamış, Today’s Zaman columnist Emre Uslu and journalist Önder Aytaç in March on similar charges of insulting the prime minister.
He also filed a complaint against Today’s Zaman journalist Mahir Zeynalov for posting tweets that purportedly included “heavy insults and swear words in a bid to provoke the nation to hatred and animosity” in December 2013. They were, in fact, mostly about news reports that had appeared in the media and included no insult directed at Erdoğan.
Weeks later, Zeynalov who is Azeri citizen, was deported from Turkey, causing outrage in Turkey and abroad.
The Erdoğan government has been cracking down on dissent in the run-up to the August presidential election by launching what is seen as politically motivated criminal complaints against critics, threatening businesses that are not supportive of the government with audits and conducting massive profiling of unsuspecting citizens.
Many journalists have been fired since the government exerted pressured on media owners. The Erdoğan government has also passed a series of bills in Parliament stifling freedom of speech and the press since the corruption scandal was exposed in December of last year.