(CN) – Turkish courts should not have fined a writer roughly $5,700 for two scathing editorials that criticized the prosecution of journalists by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the European Court of Human Rights ruled.
Erbil Tusalp, 67, has written several books and contributes columns to the daily newspaper Birgün, two of which landed him in the government’s crosshairs.
One Dec. 24, 2005, column titled “Stability” argued that Erdogen and other prominent Turkish figures invoked the status quo to keep the citizens complacent.
“In longing for a society that doesn’t speak up or interfere, the stability in command sacrifices justice, rights and freedoms, independence, equality, modernity, participation, pluralism and legal order,” Tusalp wrote.
The column depicts Erdogen as a corrupt, dissembling leader who “kneels and obeys” to “American bases, American bombs, American navies, [and] American missiles.”
Ironically, Tusalp also criticized Erdogan, in part, for prosecuting journalists.
“The day [Erdogan] says there are no convictions under Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code two journalists are convicted under it,” Tusalp wrote.
(Turkey’s infamous Article 301 threatens lengthy jail time for a citizen who “publicly denigrates Turkishness, the republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.)
His column mentions one of those journalists, Orhan Pamuk, who was prosecuted for writing a column about the Armenian genocide.
True to form, Erdogan rang in the New Year weeks later by suing Tusalp on Jan. 2, 2006.
The lawsuit did not stop Tusalt from writing a second editorial, “Get Well Soon,” five months later, that diagnosed Erdogan with “psychopathic aggressive illness.”
“From my column I say to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoan, get well soon,” Tusalt wrote. “I leave him in the hands of the Turkish doctors. But as a dabbler in amateur psychology I would like to draw attention to a small detail. Having regard to the fact that he defames the birds in the air and the wolves in the mountains, he responds to criticisms with swearing, for him University professors are immoral, the opposition party meagre, journalists shameless, and he also makes inappropriate remarks about the mothers of the voters, I consider it useful for both his and the public’s mental health to investigate whether he had a high-fevered illness when he was young”
“As he has become such a nervous wreck in that he dismissed a question like the erection of the ‘Pontic Genocide Memorial’ in Thessaloniki and tore the visitors’ book in the house of Mustafa Kemal, I suspect that he is suffering from a psychopathic aggressive illness,” the column continues. “I wish him a quick recovery.”
Three days later, Erdogan filed a second lawsuit against Tusalp.
In each case, Tusalp was fined 5,000 Turkish liras, or a combined total of roughly $5,700. Turkish appellate courts upheld the judgments.
On Tuesday, a seven-judge panel at the European Court of Human Rights blasted the undemocratic decisions.
“The impugned articles concerned the applicant’s comments and views on current events and had a bearing on issues such as the allegedly illegal conduct and corruption of high-ranking politicians and public figures and the Prime Minister’s alleged aggressive response to various incidents or events,” the judgment states. “There is no doubt that these are very important matters in a democratic society which the public has a legitimate interest in being informed about and which fall within the scope of political debate. The Court reiterates in this connection that the press fulfills an essential function in a democratic society.”
The panel later urged Erdogan to be more tolerant of criticism.
“The court observes that the plaintiff in the two sets of compensation proceedings above was a very high-ranking politician,” the judgment states. “In fact, he was and still is the prime minister of Turkey. It reiterates in this connection that the limits of acceptable criticism are wider as regards a politician than as regards a private individual. Therefore, he was obliged to display a greater degree of tolerance in this context.”
Turkey must pay Tusalp roughly $6,600.