Istanbul, April 30, 2020 – Turkish authorities should drop the charges against journalist Fatih Portakal and allow him to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the state Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency filed criminal complaints against Portakal, an anchor for the privately owned broadcaster Fox TV Turkey, on April 7, alleging that the journalist had posted “false social media messages to manipulate the public,” according to news reports.
Today, in response to the banking regulator’s complaint, an Istanbul court formally charged Portakal with damaging the “reputation, prestige or assets” of Turkish banks, a criminal offense under the country’s Banking Law, according to reports.
The charges stem from a tweet that Portakal posted on his professional account on April 7, commenting on a speech by Erdoğan the previous night, stating that the president’s reference to a tax law in his speech meant that the government may impose a tax to raise funds amid the coronavirus pandemic. Portakal has more than 7 million followers on Twitter, where he often posts political commentary.
If found guilty, the journalist may face up to three years in prison and judicial fines under Article 74 of the Banking Law. CPJ could not determine when he is next due in court; many hearings in Turkey have been delayed due to the pandemic, according to reports.
“Fatih Portakal and all other Turkish reporters and commentators must be free to voice their ideas on air and on social media, and to discuss matters of public interest,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “The charges against him must be dropped immediately, and journalists should not be forced to live in fear of being prosecuted over their commentary.”
Today’s indictment alleges that Portakal’s tweet aimed to “create a perception and an opinion that the state could ask for money from depositors on the excuse of the epidemic and would pay the money back after the epidemic” according to reports.
Portakal gave a statement included in the indictment saying that the tweet was meant to be “totally ironic,” according to news reports. The court also blocked access to the tweet within Turkey, according to those reports. CPJ was able to view the tweet from the United States, but not from Turkey.
CPJ called the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency for comment, but no one answered.