PEN is deeply concerned by the news that writer, journalist and publisher Erol Özkoray has been handed a suspended sentence of 11 months and 20 days in prison for defaming the current President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a 2013 book about the 2013 Gezi Park protests. The book, which was published when Erdoğan was prime minister, features pictures of anti-Erdoğan graffiti, quotes, slogans and banners directed at Erdğan by the Gezi Park protesters. The 2nd Istanbul Criminal Court of First Instance deemed Özkoray to have engaged in criminal defamation by reproducing these pictures, slogans and banners in print. He was handed an aggravated sentence for having committed the offense via publication at a 23 September 2014 trial hearing that neither he nor his lawyer attended on grounds of ill health. Özkoray will have to serve his suspended sentence if he is convicted of criminal defamation again in the next five years. PEN calls for the suspended sentence against Özkoray to be lifted and for defamation to be decriminalized in Turkey as a matter of urgency.
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Erol Özkoray is a Turkish journalist and intellectual best known for his outspoken criticism of the country’s military establishment during the late 1990s and early 2000s. In his work for the Idea Politika magazine – where he was owner, manager and editor in chief between 1998 and 2002 – he challenged the system of military tutelage that had dominated Turkish politics for decades, repressing the Kurdish and Islamist political movements through coups, party closures and anti-terror investigations.
He has written several books about the Turkish military’s role in politics, including The Totalitarian Turkish Farm (2006), What is the Military for? (2007) and Turkey: The Permanent Putsch (2010 in French, 2011 in English). He has contributed articles to a wide range of newspapers in Turkey and is currently writing for Jiyan! – an independent online news outlet.
His more recent work has focused on the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of the ruling Justice and Development Party; discussed at length in his books The 5th Republic (2012) and The Gezi Phenomenon (2013). Both books were published by Özkoray’s own publishing house, Idea Politika Yayınları, which has been active since May 2012.
In May 2014 Özkoray was awarded the Ayşenur Zarakolu Award for Freedom of Thought and Expression by the Human Rights Association, a Turkish NGO.
Criminal Defamation in Turkey
The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media have stated that that ‘criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws’.
Özkoray’s conviction comes in the aftermath of several highly publicized defamation cases brought by Erdoğan against some of his most prominent critics in the media. Writers Ahmet Altan, Can Dündar and İhsan Eliaçık (who was featured as a case study in PEN’s recent report on the Gezi Park protests) are amongst those that Erdoğan has sought to have prosecuted for their writings or social media posts.
PEN called for the decriminalization of defamation in Turkey during a November 2012 meeting with former President of Turkey Abdullah Gül.
Write A Letter
Please send appeals to the Turkish authorities immediately:
• Protesting the conviction of Erol Özkoray and the heavy prison sentence he faces if he is convicted of criminal defamation again in the next five years;
• Calling for defamation to be decriminalized in Turkey;
• Reminding them that Turkey has the obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a state party.
Send Your Letter To
Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ
Milli Müdafaa Caddesi No: 22
Fax: +90 312 419 33 70
If possible, please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Turkey in your country and let us know of any actions you have taken and responses you receive.