Ahmet Altan to pay judiciary fine for insulting the president

19 March 2019

İstanbul - Final hearing of the trial where journalist and writer Ahmet Altan faced “insulting the president” charges for an article published in May 2016 was held at the İstanbul 30th Criminal Court of the First Instance.

Altan attended the hearing via SEGBİS video-conference link from Silivri Prison no. 9 where he is being held for another case. He presented his statement in response to the prosecution’s opinion as to the allegations. Altan noted that Penal Chamber no. 18 of the Supreme Court had reversed the judgement of another lawsuit filed against him for insulting the president. Claiming that the court’s decision includes several sentences that could influence the judicial opinion, Altan read the relevant paragraph and added, “this passage clearly puts forth what the distinction between insult and criticism is.”

Altan: “What I did was political criticism”

Altan continued his defense with the following statement:

“My words did not target [Erdoğan’s] personality. I only evaluated his political actions. However, they keep filing such lawsuits in order to eradicate any criticism despite the Supreme Court’s decision. I have no problem with the President’s personality or identity. I don’t have a personal relationship with him; thus, I have no reason to insult him personally. He is a politician and I am a citizen. What I did was political criticism, which is my constitutional right. I demand the court to acknowledge the definition of insult as it is put forth by the Penal Chamber no. 18 of the Supreme Court.”

Erdoğan’s lawyer: “Our complaint continues”

Following Altan’s statement, President Erdoğan’s lawyer Ela Ezgi Yelmen stated that their complaint remains the same and added, “The defendant had used words like ‘thief’ and ‘dictator’ to describe my client. It is not possible for us to take such accusations as mere criticism. We do not accept his statement.”

Altan’s lawyers demand acquittal

Altan’s lawyer Figen Çalıkuşu pointed that the indictment includes the prosecutor’s personal opinions and added, “When one wants to punish thoughts, there could be no evidence to present, only personal opinions. And those opinions belong to the prosecution.” Noting that the elements of the imputed crime have not been constituted, Çalıkuşu demanded her client’s acquittal.

Lawyer Melike Polat Bursalı presented relevant decisions of the Constitutional Court and noted that these decisions especially took the targeted person’s status into consideration in similar insult and defamation cases. Bursalı added that Erdoğan withdrew his complaint on 3 May 2016 during the investigation period, arguing that him joining the case points to void process.

“My client is a writer, the complainant is a politician. Although the articles my client penned are not criticisms towards the complainant but towards the government’s activities, they do not have an insulting nature in any way. Even if they have an insulting nature, the complainant had entered the political sphere willingly and has a greater responsibility to endure such criticism. My client did not write anything targeting the complainant’s private life. He wrote an article about a very public issue which is open to debate,” Bursalı said and repeated the request for acquittal.

Following the statement from defense lawyers, the court asked Altan if he had any final remarks. Altan said, “We need to answer a simple question. Had Recep Tayyip Erdoğan not been the President of our country and did not commit a political act that concerns our entire society, would I have written such an article? No. Per the Supreme Court’s measures, my article constitutes commentary towards the complainant’s actions, not his personality. This is not an insult but a criticism.”

Altan will pay a fine of 7000 Turkish liras

Following a short break for deliberation, the court announced its decision and sentenced Altan to 11 months and 20 days in prison. The judge ruled to convert the prison sentence into a judicial fine of 7000 liras (approximately 1125 Euros).