Turkish court clears actors of 'insulting' Erdogan

Istanbul Anadolu courthouse building is pictured behind fences on March 1, 2021 at Kartal district in Istanbul during a verdict trial of two veteran celebrities on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Ozan KOSE / AFP)

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SULAIMANI — An Istanbul court on Monday (March 1) delivered a rare victory to freedom of expression advocates in Turkey by acquitting two veteran actors of "insulting" President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The case against Mujdat Gezen and Metin Akpinar -- both in their late 70s and mainstays of Turkish television and film -- was seen by their supporters as another example of Erdogan's sweeping clampdown on political dissent.

The two could have been sentenced to up to four years and eight months in prison for comments they made on opposition Halk TV in 2018.

Gezen and Akpinar used their show to speak out against a crackdown Erdogan unleashed after surviving a coup attempt in 2016 in which tens of thousands have either been jailed or dismissed from their government jobs.

"If we don't become a (democracy)... the leader might end up getting strung up by his legs or poisoned in the cellar," Akpinar said on air.

Gezen told Erdogan to "know your place".

The presiding judge ruled that Gezen and Akpinar should be acquitted of the charges "because the objective elements of the offence did not emerge" in court.

The investigation into the two men was launched immediately after Erdogan hit out at "so-called artists" who publicly attack his rule.

"They should be brought to account for this by the judiciary," Erdogan said, days after the actors' TV appearance.

"We cannot leave this business without giving a response, they will pay the price," Erdogan said at the time.


'Sword of Damocles'

Gezen's lawyer, speaking after the verdict, told reporters the actors' acquittal "doesn't mean everything is rosy in Turkey.

"The shadow of politics over the judiciary is still there," said attorney Celal Ulgen.

"This case should have never been filed," he added.

"Unfortunately, the sword of Damocles still hangs over opponents, intellectuals and opinion leaders".

On the eve of the verdict, Gezen had told AFP that artistic freedoms were wilting from self-censorship and fear under Erdogan.

"We now have self-censorship," Gezen said in a telephone interview.

"But what is even more painful to me is that (some artists) prefer to be apolitical. 

"The president has said how he expects artists to behave. But it cannot be the president of a country who decides these things. It's the artists who must decide."

(NRT Digital Media/AFP)