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15 Sep 2009 15:32
A Turkish court has handed out a suspended prison sentence for insulting Turkey’s president to a journalist who published a joke suggesting the country’s leaders are corrupt, the Ekspres newspaper said on Tuesday.
The joke, in an email sent by an anonymous reader, was placed in Ekspres by a page editor, Sevda Turaclar.
She received an 11-month suspended prison sentence after she was taken to court by President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and former finance minister Kemal Unakitan, the newspaper in the southern city of Adana said.
“We have run similar jokes about previous presidents in the past and this never happened,” Turaclar told Reuters.
Concern about freedom of speech in European Union applicant Turkey has resurfaced after the government last week imposed a $2,5-billion fine on the country’s largest media group, Dogan Yayin Holding.
The record tax fine, condemned by the European Commission and media watchdog groups, has sparked accusations by critics that the government is punishing the group for hostile coverage, including corruption allegations.
The owner of Ekspres said the newspaper would continue criticising the ruling AK Party for its policies, and accused its leaders of being intolerant towards criticism.
“This is a newspaper with a secularist line. I have nothing to lose and I will keep writing about the government’s mistakes,” Hakan Bulent Yardimci told Reuters.
Secularists frequently accuse the AK Party, which has its roots in political Islam but also embraces conservatives and business circles, of seeking to Islamise officially secular Turkey and of persecuting opponents.
“What we wrote was a simple joke.
We have written much heavier things about the previous leaders and politicians and they did not think of suing us,” Yardimci said.
It was not the first time Erdogan, whom critics accuse of accepting no criticism, has sued the media.
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