Istanbul, January 4, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Turkish authorities to ensure the safety of journalists working for the news website Odatv amid a series of threats directed at the outlet, including published remarks by a civil servant Islamic scholar.
In an interview with the Islamist news agency İLKHA on December 29, Ahmet Altıok, the provincial mufti of the southeastern province of Siirt, said that Odatv “assaults” the Prophet, cited the deadly attack on staff at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and added that “those who ridicule Muslims…never got away with what they did,” news reports said.
The mufti is a civil servant employed by the Diyanet, or Presidency of Religious Affairs, to act as a consultant and local religious authority.
Barış Terkoğlu, the news editor for Odatv, a left-wing ultranationalist news website, told CPJ today that the site has received new threats since the mufti’s interview was published. He added that the website filed a criminal complaint with police today.
“Turkish officials must strongly condemn the remarks by Mufti Ahmet Altıok and take whatever measures necessary to ensure the safety of Odatv journalists,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. “Civil servants making death threats to journalists is unacceptable and Turkey cannot turn a blind eye to the dangers the remarks pose.”
In his İLKHA interview last week, headlined “Charlie Hebdo and Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf did not get away with what they did,” Altıok said, “Be it the Charlie Hebdo case, or the likes of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf in our Prophet’s time, those who ridicule Muslims, acting upon some campaigns, perception operations, never got away with what they did. I believe that they will be once again convicted in the eyes and hearts of society. I call these gentlemen to apologize. Because you know, repentance before death is accepted.”
As of January 4, the government had not responded publicly to Altıok’s remarks. CPJ’s email sent late today requesting comment from the Diyanet was not immediately answered.
Terkoğlu said that he believes Altıok’s remarks were in connection to a story Odatv published on November 21 about how the term “jihad” is taught in the high school curriculum for religious classes.
Terkoğlu said that Odatv received threatening messages from Islamists after the article was published and added that religious media picked up the subject in late December, shortly before the mufti’s interview.
Odatv regularly receives threats over its coverage. The website is enrolled in an early warning program with the police. Terkoğlu said that no one from the police had immediately contacted them after the remarks were published.
Terkoğlu said that the outlet has received messages of support from opposition politicians, non-governmental organizations, and colleagues, but nobody from the government had immediately contacted them.
The outlet has faced persecution previously. In 2011, CPJ documented how at least 10 of the website’s staff were jailed over accusations that they were involved in the alleged Ergenekon plot–a supposed large-scale conspiracy to overthrow the government of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is now Turkey’s president.