The Evrensel newspaper published a news story titled “Rüşvet ata sporumuzdur” (“Bribery is our ancestral sport”) on March 9, 2014.
The story signed by M. Utku Şengür made references to voice recordings which surfaced during the corruption investigations that began on December 17, 2013, to suggest that bribery was a tradition that went back to Ottoman times. It was claimed that in the said voice recordings the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called his son Bilal Erdoğan when the police operation began, telling him to take out the cash hidden in their home.
Erdoğan’s lawyers Ahmet Özel, Ferah Yıldız, Hatice Özay, Sara Kanalka, Murat İlvan, Faruk Karagüzel sued the managing editor of the newspaper Arif Koşar and the contributor M. Utku Şengür after the publication of the story.
On October 21, 2016, lawyer Ahmet Özel submitted a petition of complaint to the criminal court of peace on duty, stating that the limits of journalism had been exceeded since the news story contained fabricated information and accounts, which constituted “an attack against the rights, duty and prestige of Erdoğan.” He also claimed that the news story incited hatred and enmity.
The petition further indicated that the correction sent by Erdoğan’s lawyers to the newspaper was accepted, but not published.
The lawyer requested 50,000 TL in immaterial compensation from the legally responsible persons Koşar and Şengür, for “attack on personal rights.”
The petition was processed by the Istanbul 20th Civil Court of First Instance. Devrim Avcı Özkurt, the lawyer for Koşar and Şengür, stated in his petition that the news story was published for journalistic purposes and was in compliance with the laws.
Özkurt also stated the following in his petition: “Due to the nature of a democratic polity, not necessarily everyone has the same views. Therefore, individuals who appear in public, such as politicians, executives and administrators, may not always come across news stories that praise them. If one looks at the news story which forms the subject matter of this case with such a perspective, it is evident that that it remains within the limits of press freedom, in complete accordance with principles of journalism.”
For these reasons, Özkurt requested that the case be dropped for being ”unfounded”.
In cases where compensation is demanded, the courts of first instance are in charge. The proceedings are based on the petition of complaint; the prosecutor does not draft an indictment, and does not attend the hearings.
The final hearing was held on October 15, 2019. Erdoğan’s lawyer Ela Ezgi Yelmen, and defendants Koşar and Şengür’s lawyer Mustafa Söğütlü attended the hearing.
Yelmen requested that the case be accepted.
The defense lawyer Söğütlü stated that the statute of limitations for the said news story had expired and that the story must be viewed within the scope of the freedom of press. He requested that the case be dropped.
Without adjourning the trial, judge reached a verdict and ruled that the case be dropped due to the expiry of the statute of limitations.