A Turkish court ordered prominent journalist Sedef Kabas jailed pending trial on a charge of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan under a law that has seen tens of thousands prosecuted.
Police detained Kabas early on Saturday morning and took her to Istanbul’s main police station before transferring her to the city’s main court, which ruled in favour of her formal arrest.
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The alleged insult was in the form of a palace-related proverb that Kabas expressed both on an opposition television channel and on her Twitter account, drawing condemnation from government officials.
“When the ox climbs to the palace, he does not become a king, but the palace becomes a barn,” she tweeted.
Fahrettin Altun, head of Turkey’s communications department, denounced the statement.
“The honour of the presidency’s office is the honour of our country… I condemn the vulgar insults made against our president and his office,” Altun tweeted.
Abdulhamit Gul, Turkey’s justice minister, also said on Twitter that Kabas will “get what she deserves” for her “unlawful” words.
Kabas, 53, has hosted a series of high-profile TV shows over a career spanning three decades.
She was sent to Istanbul’s Bakirkoy prison, her lawyer Ugur Poyraz said, adding he will appeal the “unlawful” decision on Monday. “We hope Turkey can return to rule of law soon,” Poyraz added.
Merdan Yanardag, chief editor of the Tele 1 channel, on which Kabas made the comments, sharply criticised her arrest.
“Her detention overnight at 2am because of a proverb is unacceptable,” he wrote on social media. “This stance is an attempt to intimidate journalists, the media and society.”
The law on insulting the president carries a jail sentence of between one and four years.
Turkey’s media watchdog RTUK separately started an investigation into Tele 1 for “unacceptable statements targeting our president”, its chairperson, Ebubekir Sahin, tweeted late on Friday.
Last October, Europe’s top human rights court called on Turkey to change the legislation after ruling that a man’s detention under the law violated his freedom of expression.
Tens of thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Erdogan in the seven years since he moved from being prime minister to president.
In 2020, 31,297 investigations were launched in relation to the charge, 7,790 cases were filed, and 3,325 resulted in convictions, according to justice ministry data. Those numbers were slightly lower than the previous year.
Since 2014, the year Erdogan became president, 160,169 investigations have been launched over insulting the president, 35,507 cases were filed and there were 12,881 convictions.