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Turkey's Erdogan to sue French magazine over Kurdish 'ethnic cleansing' accusation

The French journalists face trial over 'insulting the president' [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 October, 2019

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The French magazine accused Erdogan of 'ethnic cleansing', calling him 'The Eradicator'.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has filed a criminal complaint against a French magazine which accused him of perpetrating ethnic cleansing in northeast Syria, Turkish state media reported on Friday.

Turkey and its Syrian proxies launched a broad assault on Kurdish-controlled areas on 9 October after US troops pulled back from the border and started withdrawing from the northeast altogether.

Ankara had long planned the assault, which it insists is a necessary measure to secure its borders from the presence of the YPG, which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.

Critics have accused the country of ethnic cleansing, claiming its plans to push out the Kurdish militia will forcibly displace Kurdish civilians in an area which Ankara hopes to populate with up to three million Syrian refugees.

The front page of this week's edition of the French Le Point magazine features a picture of Erdogan making a military salute coupled with the words: "Ethnic cleansing, the Erdogan method" and "Are we going to let him massacre the Kurds?"

The magazine also called Erdogan "The Eradicator". 

The Turkish president has requested prosecutors in the capital Ankara launch a case against Etienne Gernelle, the managing editor of Le Point, and Romain Gubert, the author of the article, state news agency Anadolu reported.

The case accuses Gernelle and Gubert of insulting the president, a crime under Turkish law.

If found guilty, the two journalists could be sentenced to as much as four years and eight months in prison.

While "insulting the president" has been a criminal offence in Turkey since its foundation, the charge has become increasingly common since Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected president five years ago.

Human Rights Watch last year condemned the rising use of the charge, noting that its use has dramatically risen since 2014, when only 40 people were convicted for "insulting the president". In 2017, more than 2,000 people were found guilty of the charge.

More than 66,000 investigations have been launched since Erdogan assumed the presidency, resulting in 12,305 trials so far, Istanbul Bilgi University law professor Dr Yaman Akdeniz told leftist opposition newspaper BirGun earlier this year.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin hit back at Le Point on Thursday, pointing to France's colonial past.
"They [France] are trying every way to protect their puppets but to no avail," he said, referring to the Syrian Kurdish forces. "Kurds are not your contractors and they will not be. Your colonising days are over."

Dozens of civilians - mostly on the Kurdish side - have been killed since the start of the offensive, and more than 300,000 people have been displaced, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Amnesty International on Friday accused Ankara of "forcibly" deporting Syrian refugees to the buffer zone region.

The rights group says it obtained the testimonies of refugees who complained of being intimidated or physically forced by Turkish authorities to sign documents agreeing to a voluntary return.

Erdogan has claimed as many as three million Syrians will be resettled in the "safe zone".

The plan to relocate vulnerable refugees to a war zone has been condemned by rights groups, who say the move would be a violation of the principle of non-refoulement and even an example of ethnic cleansing through demographic engineering.

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