Turkey: 21 months in prison for journalist calling president a thief

by Michelle Trimborn

Dark times for press freedom in Turkey continue with the conviction of another journalist. Barış İnce has been sentenced to 21 months in jail. He was found guilty of defamation of the Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdogan_900 Turkish President Erdoğan making a press release at the Prime Minister's office, Ankara, 2010. (photo: wikipedia/Randam)

İnce, editorial consultant and former editor of the left-wing newspaper BirGün, was convicted for insulting the Turkish President. He might have to go to jail for 21 months as he was charged with having called the president a thief in a statement that he made to the court in a different case.

However, the way of uttering his political criticism was “flamboyant”, as İnce told the Turkish independent news agency bianet. Instead of directly making his critical statement, the journalist published it as a hidden message in an acrostic: The first letters of each paragraph together form the sentence “Hırsız Tayyip”, thief Tayyip. This only became obvious when the statement, titled “Such is my defence”, was published in BirGün.

Initially, Barış İnce went on trial in October 2014 as he was accused of defamation because of reporting on alleged corruption of Erdoğan and his son. In a hearing of this court case, he originally issued his defence with the acrostic. When discovered, additional charges were made against the journalist which led to the 21-month-penalty he now has to face. The sentence has not been suspended, but İnce is still free as he has the right to appeal.

Turkish President Erdoğan has a reputation for going on trial against journalists and activists. Since he began his presidency in 2014, more than 1,800 charges of defamation of the president were pressed. Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code foresees prison sentences for this offence.