Turkish President Erdogan is seen in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 3, 2022. Erdoğan recently filed a civil lawsuit against journalist Sedef Kabaş and TELE1 television board chair Fırat Sakar. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko)

Turkish President Erdoğan sues recently arrested journalist Sedef Kabaş

Istanbul, February 9, 2022 – In response to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s civil lawsuit seeking damages from journalist Sedef Kabaş and TELE1 television board chair Fırat Sakar, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement calling for the complaint to be dropped.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should drop his civil suit against imprisoned journalist Sedef Kabaş and media executive Fırat Sakar, and ensure that journalists can do their jobs without having to choose between paying fealty to the president or facing legal harassment,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Authorities should immediately release Kabaş, and neither she nor any other member of the press should face retaliation for participating in public political debate.”

Authorities arrested Kabaş, a freelance journalist, on January 22 and charged her with insulting the president over comments she made during a political debate aired on TELE1, as CPJ documented at the time. CPJ and 26 other international organizations issued a joint letter to Turkish authorities on February 1 calling for her release.

On Tuesday, February 8, while Kabaş was in detention awaiting trial on that criminal insult charge, Erdoğan separately filed a civil suit seeking 250,000 liras (US$18,405) in damages from Kabaş and Sakar over Kabaş’ comments,  according to news reports.

Ahmet Özel, a lawyer representing Erdoğan, argued in the suit that Kabaş “went beyond the limits of free speech” and “publicly humiliated” the president in her comments, and that Sakar was legally responsible for comments made on TELE1, those reports said.

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