Turkish journalists jailed over Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Turkish journalists jailed over Charlie Hebdo cartoon
3 min read
29 April, 2016
Hikmet Cetinkaya and Ceyda Karan, of the staunchly secular, opposition-leaning Cumhuriyet newspaper, were both sentenced to two years in jail after publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Cumhuriyet journalists have received public support [AFP]
A pair of Turkish journalists have been sentenced to two years in jail for illustrating their columns with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Hikmet Cetinkaya and Ceyda Karan, both columnists with the opposition Cumhuriyet daily, went on trial in January last year, and were acquitted of "insulting religious values" but convicted on charges of "inciting public hatred" for their inclusion of images originally published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The jailing has raised further alarm over press freedom in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose efforts to constitutionally enhance his office's powers have coincided with a military campaign against Kurdish fighters and a crackdown on opposition journalists.

"We will appeal the ruling at the appeals court," said their lawyer, Bulent Utku, after Thursday's hearing at Istanbul's criminal court.

An initial sentence of three years in jail was reduced to two by the court on technical grounds.

Secular-Islamist divide

The journalists were the focus of a class-action suit brought by nearly 1,300 complainants, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency.

Erdogan's daughters, Esra and Sumeyye, his son Bilal and his son-in-law, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, were reportedly among the plaintiffs, and were represented by a lawyer in court.

As the verdict was read out, plaintiffs in court shouted "Allahu Akbar", or "God is greatest", reported the staunchly secular Cumhuriyet.

On January 14, 2015, Cumhuriyet published a four-page Charlie Hebdo pullout translated into Turkish, marking the French weekly's first issue since a deadly attack on its Paris offices earlier that month.

The edition did not include the controversial front cover featuring the Prophet Mohammed, but a smaller version of the cartoon was included twice inside the newspaper to illustrate columns on the subject by Karan and Cetinkaya.

The paper subsequently received threats, while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the publication of cartoons of the Muslim prophet as an "open provocation".

Davutoglu had, days earlier, joined dozens of world leaders in a march through Paris, in memory of the 17 victims killed in attacks at Charlie Hebdo's offices and across the French capital.

'A gift'

Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul are standing on trial - accused of revealing state secrets - and could face multiple life sentences if found guilty.

Writing on Twitter, Karan lashed out at Turkish officials: "Let our two-year sentence be a gift for our liberal fascists #JeSuisCharlie."

International concern has been growing over the escalating numbers of journalists currently facing trial in Turkey, many on accusations of insulting Erdogan.

Nearly 2,000 court cases are currently considering insults against the president.

Cetinkaya and Karan can count women's rights group Femen among its supporters, after it tweeted an image of a topless activist holding a Charlie Hebdo cartoon, with "Karan and Cetinkaya are not alone" written on her torso.