Turkish editor given suspended prison term for insulting Erdoğan on Twitter

New York, June 19, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a suspended prison term given to the editor of the English-language Turkish daily Today’s Zaman on Wednesday on charges of insulting then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a July 2014 tweet.

The 14th Penal Court of the First Instance in Ankara convicted Bülent Keneş, editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, of insulting Erdoğan and sentenced the journalist to 21 months in prison, according to news reports. The judge suspended the sentence because Keneş lacked a previous criminal record, Agence France-Presse reported. The judge said that the sentence would be implemented if the editor repeated the offense in the next five years, according to Today’s Zaman.

“We are relieved that Bülent Keneş was not sentenced to prison this week, but he is hardly free, given he must censor himself for the next five years in order to stay out of jail,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to recognize that public office comes with public criticism, and to stop harassing journalists with legal action.”

The charges stemmed from a tweet Keneş posted on his personal Twitter account that said, “Thankfully, the respected mother of this shameful [man] didn’t live to see what kind of son she has and saved herself the torture.” The tweet did not include any name, but Erdoğan claimed it was an insult to him, Today’s Zaman reported. Erdoğan’s mother died in 2011, according to news reports.

Keneş has been targeted by Turkish authorities in the past. In March 2014, Erdoğan filed claims against Keneş and his deputy, Mehmet Kamış, saying they “humiliated” him on Twitter. The claim did not proceed to the courts.

Turkey is holding seven journalists in prison in relation for their work, with the most recent detainee being Taraf journalist Mehmet Baransu, according to CPJ research. Journalists in Turkey have come under various forms of censorship over the past few years–from being fired or demoted, to being threatened and harassed, to being prosecuted and jailed, all in retaliation for their critical reporting or opinion, CPJ research shows. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, the Turkish media organization Platform for Independent Journalism released the documentary Persona Non Grata, which explores the current state of press freedom in Turkey.