Turkey’s crackdown on the media appears to have reached a new level.
Sevgi Akarcesme, an Istanbul-based reporter for the major Turkish newspaper Zaman, was put on trial after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a member of the ruling AKP party, sued her for “insulting” him on Twitter.
And Akarcesme tweeted Monday morning that the indictment included “insults” that were not even her own.
This morning I had an hearing in the court because Turkish PM Davutoglu sued me over a comment left under my tweet! Yes, somebody else's…
— Sevgi Akarcesme (@SevgiAkarcesme) September 14, 2015
Akarcesme had tweeted that “Davutoğlu, the prime minister of the government that covered up the corruption investigation, has eliminated press freedom in Turkey.”
But it was a commenter who referred to Davutoglu as “the puppet of the palace” and called him a name, Akarcasme later tweeted. She noted that she could very well lose the case even though the comment was not hers.
Akarcasme’s ordeal is a particularly extreme example of the AKP’s crackdown on the press and social media, which is intensifying in the runup to November’s snap election.
A 17-year-old high school student was sentenced to 11 months in jail last week after a speech he gave in December was deemed insulting to Erdogan.
On Monday, the Hurriyet Daily News reported that the chief news editor of the Turkish magazine Nokta had been arrested on charges of offices of “insulting the Turkish president” and “making terrorist propaganda.” Nokta had apparently published a photo of Erdogan taking a selfie near the coffin of a slain soldier.
The Hurriyet itself was the target of a violent attack last week, when pro-government protestors — reportedly led by a Turkish MP who later appeared at an AKP convention as a higher council member — stoned the newspaper’s headquarters.
Earlier this month, two Vice News journalists were detained while reporting from Diyarkbir, the de facto capital of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. They were charged with “working on behalf of a terrorist organization” and have since been released.
Other publications — such as the daily newspaper Milliyet — have reportedly been firing journalists whose work is critical of the government.
In August, Twitter issued a transparency report detailing how many requests it had received from different governments requesting that specific content be removed. More than 70% of these requests came from Turkish officials.
“The company received 408 court orders and another 310 requests from [Turkish] government authorities to remove content ‘based on violations of personal rights and other local laws,'” Business Insider Tech editor Matt Rosoff noted.
“That’s more than ten times as many as second place, Russia, which issued zero court orders and 68 official requests.”
Turkey blocked Twitter in July after images began circulating of an ISIS-linked suicide bombing that killed 32 youth activists in the southeastern city of Suruc. Twitter users calling for anti-government protests after the bombing were also blocked.Censorship is nothing new in Turkey — as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted in July, “[President] Erdogan has turned Turkey’s regulatory institutions into censorship and sanctions bodies.”
Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council, tasked with maintaining the impartiality of media outlets, is one of these institutions. During the Gezi Park protests in 2013, the council attempted to shut down the pro-opposition Hayat television channel.
Last year, Erdogan blocked YouTube and threatened to “eradicate” Twitter after leaked audio put he and other government officials at the center of a corruption investigation.
Now, the stakes are especially high: Erdogan’s party lost its majority in parliament for the first time in over a decade back in June and is gambling on an AKP majority come November that will allow him to expand his presidential authority.