ARTICLE 19 joins the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) and 36 other press freedom and human rights organisations and journalists in calling on Turkey to release senior journalist Sedef Kabaş. Charged with “insulting the president”, after she used a popular Circassian proverb on a live television segment, Sedef was sent to prison on January 22, 2022. The unfounded imprisonment of the noted journalist was met with widespread condemnation from local and international press freedom organisations as well as rights organisations and press freedom defenders. Yet, the Turkish government and judiciary appear relentless and Sedef remains behind bars.
On January 14, 2022, while discussing President Erdoğan at a show called “The Arena of Democracy”, hosted by pro-opposition TV channel TELE1, Sedef said, “Cattle does not become a king when it enters a palace, but the palace becomes a barn”. Her remark prompted backlash from government officials and pro-Erdoğan corners. The journalist was arrested from her home by law enforcement officers at around 2 AM on the night of January 21.
Sedef has since clarified that she was using a proverb and maintains that it was not intended as an insult to the president. When she was produced before the courts on January 22, the court dubbed her a “flight risk” and ordered her imprisonment. On January 26, the court rejected her lawyer’s appeal for her release. The journalist is currently being held in Bakırköy Women’s Prison in İstanbul.
Meanwhile, TELE1 was fined for the episode for “inciting hatred” by the country’s telecommunications watchdog RTÜK, which also banned the show for five episodes.
Sedef, a renowned political journalist, frequently appears on political talk shows and television segments hosted by the few opposition television stations remaining in Turkey. As a former television host herself, she has amassed a following for her journalistic work. She now runs her own channel on YouTube, Sedef Kabaş TV, on which she invites guests and discusses politics. The channel has over 89,000 subscribers. At least 912,000 accounts also follow the journalist on Twitter.
Her arrest and subsequent imprisonment on a charge so frivolous reflect the dire state of press freedom in the country. Erdoğan, dubbed a press freedom predator by international media freedom watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), has propagated a hostile attitude towards journalists since he came to power. The country has witnessed an increasingly declining space for free speech and press freedom in the past decade, with state institutions, the law and judiciary, all weaponised against dissenting voices. Journalists, activists and opponents to the incumbent government as well as citizen protestors, have been dealt with a heavy hand, with police brutality, legal harassment and imprisonments becoming the norm.
In the same vein, scores of critical journalists, human rights defenders, activists and political opponents have been hit with the charge of “insulting the president”. A conviction for this charge can carry a sentence of up to four years in jail. Moreover, according to Article 299 of the Turkish penal code, an added penalty may be imposed on the defendant if the insult was made in public. The law has been criticised widely but to no avail. In October 2021, the European Court of Human Rights called on Turkey to change the law but the authorities continue to weapons this law against critics and opponents.
The undersigned organisations and individuals view Sedef’s arrest as an extension of the Turkish government’s intolerance for free speech and media freedom. We call on Turkey to cease its attacks on the free press, which is essential for the success of any democracy. The CFWIJ and the undersigned demand the immediate release of Sedef Kabaş and condemn the fine imposed on TELE1.
The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
Association of Journalists of Kosovo
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Human Rights Association Women’s Commission
Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey
Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA)
Overseas Press Club of America (OPC)
Public News Service, USA
Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD)
Platform for Independent Journalism (P24)
The Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS)
Turkish Press, Broadcasting and Printer Workers’ Union (DİSK Basın-İş)
Women In Journalism Institute, Canada (WIJI)
Pakistan Press Foundation
Amberin Zaman, Journalist, Turkey
Ayşen Şahin, Journalist, Turkey
Banu Güven, Journalist, Turkey
Can Dündar, Journalist, Turkey
Elçin Poyrazlar, Journalist, Turkey
Hayko Bağdat, Journalist, Turkey
İrem Afşin, Journalist, Turkey
Keith Ross Leckie, Author, Journalist, Filmmaker, Canada
Melis Alphan, Journalist, Turkey
Nevşin Mengü, Journalist, Turkey
Saliha Yayla, Journalist, Turkey
Sevda Karaca, Journalist, Turkey
Tuba Çameli, Journalist, Turkey
Alexander Duarte, Journalist, Venezuela
Ava Homa, Author, Iran
Abdulrahman Matar, Writer and Journalist, Novalest, Canada
Anneli Andre-Barrett, Refugee Integration Mentor & Editor, Canada