The third hearing in well-known independent journalist Erol Özkoray’s trial on a charge of insulting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his book “The Gezi phenomenon” gets under way before a criminal court in Istanbul tomorrow.
Published in July 2013, the book is a social and political analysis of “Occupy Gezi,” a protest movement that the police crushed in the summer of 2013. At least 153 journalists were injured and 39 were arrested while covering the protests.
Özkoray is facing a possible sentence of 12 to 32 months in prison under article 125 of the penal code in a connection with a chapter of the book about the slogans and graffiti painted on the walls of Istanbul during the unrest. The trial began on 20 March.
“A year after the demonstrations, the authorities continue to criminalize the ‘Occupy Gezi’ movement and the way journalists covered it,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “By attacking such a well-known person as Özkoray, they are sending a clear warning to Turkey’s entire civil society.
“It is unacceptable that a journalist should be facing the possibility of imprisonment just for reporting comments. We call for an end to this prosecution and the dismissal of all charges against Özkoray. This case yet again underlines the urgency of a complete overhaul of Turkey’s legislation, including the decriminalization of defamation and insult.”
The indictment signed by public prosecutor Hasan Bölükbasi mentions the fact that Özkoray’s book quotes such slogans as “Don’t be an ass, listen to the people,” “You are disgraced, resign” and “Tayyip, it is not your fault that you were born.” The book’s co-author, Nurten Özkoray, is not being prosecuted.
“After violently attacking peaceful [demonstrators], resulting in eight deaths and 10,000 injured, the Islamist government is trying by all possible means to make people forget this uprising, of which the slogans are an integral part,” Özkoray said.
“They had to be compiled for the collective memory because they are very creative, ironic and full of humour. They belong to the people, to the six million people throughout the country who revolted. They are therefore anonymous. Attributing them to me and me alone is a judicial travesty.”
Winner of the 2014 Prize for Freedom of Thought and Expression, awarded by the human rights group IHD, Özkoray is the author of many key books and articles about the army’s once dominant position in Turkish politics, and was prosecuted more than a dozen times from 2000 to 2006, when he edited the Idea Politika website.
All of these cases, in which he was usually charged with “denigrating the Turkish armed forces,” ended up being dismissed. He testified in defence of Reporters Without Borders in Paris in May 2002 in a lawsuit brought by Turkish armed forces chief of staff Hüseyin Kivrikoglu over a protest about military pressure on the Turkish media.
Turkey is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.