Libel Lawsuits: Another Approach to Turkish Censorship

This blog site has recently featured ways in which Turkish media barons have fired, suspended or fined reporters who had written anything deemed critical of either the AKP or Tayyip Erdogan.  The  Prime Minister, however, also relies on another way of silencing his critics: suing them for defamation.

The victims of Erdogan’s suits range from high school students—guilty of calling him a light bulb—actors—for having a character in a play sing “The Tayyip Blues–even to cartoonists, one of whom famously drew him as a cat caught in a ball of yarn. The main targets of these suits, however, are often newspapers, editors and reporters.

Serbil Tusalp, one of the journalists Erdogan has repeatedly sued, decided to appeal his convictions to the European Court of Human Rights.  In a unanimous decision, the ECHR wrote: 

As to the form of the expressions, the Court observes that the author chose to convey his strong criticisms, colored by his own political opinions and perceptions, by using a satirical style. In this connection, the Court reiterates that Article 10 is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb; such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no “democratic society.”

(to see the complete decision, click here)

Erdogan’s lawyers are challenging this decision in an Ankara court.  The outcome of the challenge may well decide whether indeed a “democratic society” can exist in Turkey, or whether the Prime Minister can continue to regard criticism as libel, punishable by fines and jail terms.

William Jones
Chair, Turkey Country Coordination Group
Amnesty International – USA

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