Journalist Oktay Candemir was taken into custody for his social media post about the TV series “Resurrection: Ertuğrul” broadcast on TRT. He is charged with “defaming a deceased person’s memory”.
Yesterday, there occurred an interesting first as regards the prosecution of journalists in Turkey. A journalist spent the night in detention for allegedly “insulting” Ertuğrul Ghazi, a 13th century figure considered to be an important protagonist in the history of the Ottoman Empire. Although he was released the next morning, he was put on “probation” for an alleged risk of “absconding”. That is, as of the writing of this piece, he is obliged to go to the police station every week to give his signature, for an indefinite period of time.
Journalists in Turkey have always faced numerous charges. Although more severe allegations concerning “terrorism” stand out among these, journalists are also frequently charged with “insult” in various legal proceedings. However, in the past, no journalist was ever accused of “insulting” a historical figure who had lived hundreds of years ago, and who currently has no known living relatives. But that has indeed come to pass now!
On September 7th, journalist Oktay Candemir, who lives in Van, was charged with “defaming the memory of a person”, as per Article 130 of the Turkish Penal Code, for his humorous social media post about the TV series “Resurrection: Ertuğrul” broadcast on the state-owned channel TRT.
However, according to the law, for an investigation to be launched pursuant to the said article, a complaint must be filed first. Article 130 of the Turkish Penal Code, on the basis of which Candemir is accused, stipulates that a complaint must be presented for the initiation of an investigation for “defaming a person’s memory”. Article 131 of the same law states that the complaint must be filed by “first and second degree relatives, spouse or sibling of the deceased individual in question”.
After Candemir was detained, many wondered which direct relative or descendant of Ertuğrul Ghazi -who lived back in 13th century- might have filed a complaint about a social media post in the 21st century.
Ertuğul Ghazi lived in mid-13th century and was the father to Osman Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. After five seasons, the series ended with a finale in 2019. It was followed by the sequels “Establishment: Osman” and “Awakening: Great Seljuks”.
The investigation against Candemir has been based on his social media post about this TV series concerning the events of many centuries ago. Police officers arrived at Candemir’s house on September 7th, 2020 to detain Candemir under the investigation. Candemir was out following a news story at the moment, and he was informed of the matter.
Upon coming to his house, Candemir saw that the place was surrounded by dozens of police officers and armoured vehicles.
Candemir was detained and spent the night in detention. On September 8th, 2020, he was interrogated at Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. He was referred to the court with a request for probation.
Van 2. Criminal Court of Peace released Candemir and put him on probation. The court stated that “there was evidence suggesting that Candemir may have committed the crime of defaming a person’s memory.”
The court statement, however, did not include any information as to who might have filed the complaint for this charge, which is prosecutable on complaint only.
Nonetheless, Candemir has been put on probation to allegedly “prevent him from absconding” and “access him during the legal proceedings”.
As a result, due to a social media post about a TV series concerning the events of centuries ago, Candemir will now give his signature at a police station for an indefinite but presumably long period, will be banned from traveling abroad, and face a prison sentence of up to two years, four months.
According to the Press in Arrest database, Oktay Candemir already stands trial in three separate cases. In September 2012, he has been charged with “membership of an armed terror organization” under the trial popularly known as “KCK Press Trial”. Separately, he has been accused of “showing resistance to prevent a state official from performing his duty” after being detained while following a news story in Van. Finally, Candemir has also been charged with “insulting the President” in a social media post. As such, he currently faces a total of nine years two months to 22 years eight months of imprisonment in these three trials.
Candemir has been released with a court order, and his case file has been sent to the prosecutor’s office. The investigation about him will continue. The prosecutor’s indictment will show whether the only charge that Candemir faces is the one based on Article 130 of Turkish Penal Code, and whether the accusations are limited to his post on the series “Resurrection: Ertuğrul”.
After working as a reporter with the now shuttered Dicle News Agency, Candemir has been working as a freelance journalist in Van, reporting on all major incidents in the city. For many years, he has been charged and / or prosecuted due to his news stories and social media posts, pursuant to various articles of Turkish Penal Code and Anti-Terror Law.
Candemir is the very first journalist to face charges based on Article 130 of the Turkish Penal Code. In case a decision of non-prosecution is not reached, an indictment against him is indeed drafted, and the charge levelled against him is not changed, he will also become the first journalist to stand trial as per this article.
After his release, Candemir and his lawyer answered Press in Arrest’s questions. Candemir stated the following:
“I tweeted that message on September 3rd… It was a humorous post, satirizing the name of a TV series. They have apparently interpreted that message as ‘an insult against the precious memory of deceased Ottoman sultans’…
Journalists working in Van have been experiencing such things for many years. Journalists in Van face the same repression with all the other journalists: relentless attempts at intimation and suppression…
That is, they are clearly telling us, ‘do not pen any news stories, do not even think’. However, I shall continue to write and think.
Everything I do falls under the scope of the freedom of thought, and I will exercise that freedom until the very end.”
Candemir’s lawyer Deniz Yıldız made the following remarks:
“Oktay Candemir was detained for posting a humorous social media message about the TV series Resurrection: Ertuğrul, and Establishment: Osman, broadcast on TRT1. The prosecutor bases his investigation on Turkish Penal Code, Article 130, namely ‘defaming the memory of a deceased person’.
Candemir has not committed an act that may be subjected to an investigation. Turkish Penal Code, Article 130, paragraph 1 describes the offence in question, and my client’s actions do not correspond to that definition.
Furthermore, no complaint has been filed. The case file does not include a complaint by any relative of the deceased individual in question.
These are the doings of what we call ‘virtual police patrol’, which surveys individuals’ messages on public social media accounts. A police unit has been assigned with this task. When they consider that a post may constitute a crime, they spring into action upon the approval of the public prosecutor’s office.”
Press in Arrest is a database, monitoring, documentation and collective memory study of Press Research Association.
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