Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has criticized a legal complaint filed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş, saying it is a cause for concern and part of a campaign of intimidation against journalists.
RSF Europe Desk Director Johann Bihr said the case against Keneş is not the first of its kind and that the crackdown on journalists has been intensifying recently.
“This trend is worrisome for press freedom in Turkey,” Bihr told the private Cihan news agency on Wednesday.
Erdoğan’s complaint against Keneş came last week and was directed at the latter’s messages on microblogging site Twitter. In a complaint filed with the Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office, Erdoğan’s lawyers claimed — without providing any evidence — that Keneş had insulted the prime minister in his Twitter messages as part of an alleged smear campaign.
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, which is active in education, charity and interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
The attorneys alleged that Keneş had chosen Erdoğan as a target for character assassination because of the prime minister’s vow to fight the “parallel structure.”
Paradoxically, the petition acknowledged that Keneş had not specifically mentioned Erdoğan in his tweets, and yet it alleged that he had clearly referred to the prime minister.
Erdoğan had 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 had also previously 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 of 2013. The tweets were, in fact, mostly about news reports appearing in the media, with no insults directed at Erdoğan.
Weeks later, Zeynalov, who is an Azeri citizen, was deported from Turkey, causing outrage in Turkey and abroad.
Also on Wednesday, the London branch of PEN, the worldwide association of writers, expressed concern over Prime Minister Erdoğan’s legal action against journalists in the wake of the latest complaint filed against Keneş.
Commenting to Today’s Zaman, English PEN Director Jo Glanville said, “English PEN is very concerned about Prime Minister Erdoğan’s now habitual use of legal action to silence and intimidate legitimate public comment.” Stating that freedom of expression includes the right to offend, particularly within the context of comment and opinion relating to politicians and public officials, Glanville added that it is vital for Turkey to promote free speech on issues of clear public interest.
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 due to government pressure on media owners. The Erdoğan government has also passed a series of bills in Parliament stifling freedom of speech and the press since a corruption scandal emerged in December of last year.