Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan is suing employees of the conservative Greek daily Dimokratia and the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo for “insulting the president.” Erdoğan addresses his supporters during a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, on November 5, 2021. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Turkish President Erdoğan sues Greek and French outlets for alleged insults

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed lawsuits in Turkish courts against employees of the conservative Greek daily Dimokratia and the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo under Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Law, which criminalizes “insulting the president.” None of the defendants have appeared in Turkish courts, according to news reports.

Erdoğan is suing Dimokratia managing editor Dimitris Rizoulis and four other employees over a September 18 frontpage headline that used a Turkish swear word to describe tensions between Greece and Turkey over drilling rights in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the U.S. Government-funded broadcaster Voice of America and the Greek news website Greek Reporter.

Dimokratia editors described the legal action as “a parody” and an attack on free speech, according to that VOA report, which said that Greek officials had “chided [the outlet] for its vulgar tone” but would not extradite the journalists to face trial in Turkey. If convicted in absentia, the journalists could face up to five years in prison if they traveled to Turkey, which could complicate their ability to travel internationally, according to VOA.

The Turkish president is also suing three staff members of Charlie Hebdo for allegedly insulting him in a front-page caricature published in October 2020, which Erdoğan called a “disgusting attack,” according to news reports.

Erdoğan filed a criminal complaint last October, and the trial began in Ankara, Turkey, on November 18, 2021, against general publishing coordinator Julin Serignac, managing editor Gerard Biard, chief editor Laurent Sourisseau, and cartoonist Alice Petit, according to independent news website Bianet, which said that none of those defendants were present. The next hearing is scheduled for June 1, 2022, according to Bianet.

Erdoğan has repeatedly used Article 299 to silence critical journalists, and in 2014 told CPJ that media outlets “should never have been given the liberty to insult.”

The European Court of Human Rights has previously called Turkey’s Article 299 “incompatible with the freedom of expression,” and called for changes to the legislation, news reports said.

CPJ emailed the Turkish president’s office for comment but did not receive any reply.