10:55 GMT29 November 2020
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    Turkish journalists face a growing crackdown with fines and prison terms for simply being critical of President Erdogan and his family, particularly when controversial policies are discussed.

    Calling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son Bilal "gifted" is now a crime in Turkey, the experience of journalist Seray Şahiner appears to show.

    Şahiner, a columnist at Turkey's BirGün newspaper, was sentenced on Thursday by a Turkish court on to pay $2,610 in damages to Bilal Erdogan for "insulting" him.

    "I am most upset that in Turkey they are trying to silence the voice of everyone who expresses the slightest dissatisfaction or criticism of leadership. In reality, there are no insults, there is only a serious freedom of speech problem," Şahiner told Sputnik Turkiye.

    Journalists working at the Istanbul-based BirGün newspaper have been increasingly targeted by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his inner circle.

    Columnist Kemal Ulusaler was on Tuesday sentenced to 11 months and 20 days of a suspended sentence for "insulting" Erdogan in a June 2015 column. Another reporter, Ömür Şahin Keyif, was acquitted of accusations that one of her reports insulted Erdogan's wife Emine.

    The newspaper itself was pushed into financial hardship, requesting aid from readers, after state-owned companies stopped advertising in the newspaper, which has a leftist editorial policy critical of the Turkish government.

    What Did Seray Say?

    Seray Şahiner's article was not by itself insulting of Bilal Erdogan, she told Sputnik, and appears to be part of a government policy.

    Ulusaler previously told BirGün that it appears that President Erdogan enlisted a company to search for articles about him and ordered lawyers to come after the journalists. Two men from Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper area also facing prison terms on "espionage" charges for uncovering Turkish intelligence services' arms shipments to Syrian rebelss.

    In Şahiner's case, she was making a point about statements by Bilal Erdogan during a meeting on education reform, which threatened to make Turkey's moderately secular system considerably more Islamic.

    "At that time, the agenda being actively discussed was the rapid Islamization of secular mixed-gender schools. Many parents, public organizations and schoolchildren themselves spoke out against this trend," Şahiner told Sputnik Turkiye.

    Şahiner called Bilal Erdogan "gifted," commenting on his strange standing, in which he actively spoke on the topic from a position of knowledge and authority, despite not having any real standing as an expert or official.

    "Despite Bilal Erdogan's not having a position in the National Education Ministry, during the meeting he persistently advocated religious education in schools, widespread creation of Imam Hatip [madrasa-like schools in Turkey] schools, and segregated education for boys and girls," Şahiner told Sputnik Turkiye.

    The resulting judgment, however, was shocking for Şahiner, who compared it to the "Gollum case," where a Turkish man compared President to the "Lord of the Rings" character in an image on social media and now faces two years of hard Turkish prison time.


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    journalist, prison, court, crackdown, Bilal Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey
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