Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Not Just a Thin Skin . . .

The Wall Street Journal's Marc Champion will no doubt soon be on the AKP's list of journalists being used by international gangs to undermine its government. In an article appearing yesterday, Champion reports on what observers of Turkish politics have long known: Prime Minister Erdogan is a very, very litigious man. For the story, click here.

According to Champion, Erdogan had filed 57 libel suits by 2005, just two years after taking office. He won 21 of the cases, netting a total 700,000 Turkish Lira, or about $440,000, in compensation. An excerpt:
Since then, the government has refused to answer further questions on the matter. It said that whomever Mr. Erdogan sues—under article 125 of the Turkish penal code—is a private affair. The law criminalizes insults against a person's honor, differentiating such barbs from other protected free speech. Guilty parties face a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

Mr. Erdogan's spokesman didn't respond to several phone and email requests for comment.

Fikret Ilkiz, a prominent Turkish press freedom lawyer, says the frequency with which the prime minister's lawyers launch insult suits on his behalf has increased since 2005. By now the tally is "in the hundreds," he estimates, and has triggered a boom in lawsuits launched by cabinet ministers and legislators. Mr. Ilkiz added that previous prime ministers rarely used article 125.
The article goes on to document a few recent libel suits the prime minister has filed, including the one against the Milliyet cartoonist who depicted him as a cat tied up in yarn, as well as another involving a theater troupe and the case against British citizen Michael Dickinson, who drew the prime minister's head on a dog's body.

While the prime minister seem to have problems dealing with criticism, however tasteless or disrespectful it might be, he has no problems dishing it out. Erdogan recently called Milliyet journalist Nuray Mert "despicable" for having written that new roads the government is building in the southeast will facilitate security operations and threatened another journalist, Abbas Guclu, for tying the prime minister to a scandal involving Turkey's university entrance exam. In regard to Guclu, Erdogan said the journalist would "pay the price" for his allegations. For a litany of such allegations, see Sedat Ergin's recent column (in Turkish) in Hurriyet.

UPDATE I (6/9) --  Another example (from Milliyet, in Turkish) of the prime minister's thin skin was displayed when Erdogan accused Taraf columnist Ahmet Altan of insulting him after the columnist said he would not be voting for the AKP on Sunday.


Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Erdogan accused Taraf columnist Ahmet Altan of insulting him after the columnist said he would not be voting for the AKP on Sunday.

No, this was about something else (a polemic about the statue in Kars). The court date coincided with Altan's column about his vote.

Altan did IMHO insult the PM in that exchange. He attempted to put down quite a few people by thinly veiled references to his upper-class family/upbringing. 'Besik ulemasi' tend to do that. The PM, who's not someone who'd miss an opprotunity like that, scored by exploiting the reactions to class/eliteness etc. implications. Then Altan responded with 'sen' blabla and 'kof kabadayi'. I don't know how long it took for the papers to be served after that.

Anyway, insults are actionable in civil court here and sometimes in criminal courts. I personally have no pity on Altan in that regard. He belongs to a class of people who should tell those who take them seriously that these 'insult' laws need to be rescinded. They don't do that. Instead whenever somebody they like (or themselves) get in trouble they go 'this is not an insult.' I have furthermore seen Taraf people and people with 'Altan' last names threaten people on the 'net with precisely these kinds of lawsuits for innocous-looking stuff. (Somebody should look into who/what kind of people use these laws.) I have choice words for the lot of them for the damage they do to the intellectual climate here -- but those words are illegal to say! Let me just say that these people, as a subsection the intelligentsia, are censored censored censored and not at all what they advertise themselves to be. This was so when the 'left' was fashionable and they were passing themselves off as leftists and it is so now (I don't know what they present themselves as now, they look the same to me).

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Oh and the rumor (ie I am too lazy to find links and confirm) is that the PM is retracting all such lawsuits as part of his promised 'helallesme' from the 'balcony speech.'

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

Aengus Collins gets it right, IMHO, about
'insults' here: