A Turkish court has ordered the imprisonment of well-known journalist Sedef Kabas pending trial for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan under a law that has seen tens of thousands of people prosecuted.
Police arrested Kabas early Saturday morning and took her to Istanbul’s main police station before transferring her to the city’s main court, which ruled in favor of her formal arrest.
The alleged insult took the form of a palace-related proverb that Kabas voiced both on an opposition TV channel and on his Twitter account, drawing condemnation from government officials.
“When the ox goes up to the palace, it doesn’t become king, but the palace becomes a barn,” she tweeted.
Fahrettin Altun, head of Turkey’s communications department, denounced the statement.
“The honor of the office of the president is the honor 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 would “get what she deserves” for her “illegal” remarks.
Kabas, 53, has hosted a string of high-profile television shows in a career spanning three decades.
She was sent to Bakirkoy prison in Istanbul, her lawyer Ugur Poyraz said, adding that he would appeal the “illegal” decision on Monday. “We hope that Turkey can soon return to the rule of law,” Poyraz added.
Merdan Yanardag, editor of the Tele 1 channel, on which Kabas made the comments, strongly criticized his arrest.
“His detention overnight at 2 a.m. because of a proverb is unacceptable,” he wrote on social media. “This position is an attempt to intimidate journalists, the media and society.”
The insult to the president law carries a prison sentence of one to four years.
Turkish media watchdog RTUK has separately opened an investigation into Tele 1 for “unacceptable statements targeting our president”, its chairman, Ebubekir Sahin, tweeted on Friday evening.
Last October, Europe’s top human rights tribunal called on Turkey to change the law after ruling that detaining a man under the law violated his freedom of expression.
Tens of thousands of people have been charged and convicted for insulting Erdogan in the seven years since he rose from prime minister to president.
In 2020, 31,297 investigations were opened in relation to the prosecution, 7,790 cases were filed and 3,325 resulted in convictions, according to Justice Department data. These figures were slightly lower than the previous year.
Since 2014, when Erdogan became president, 160,169 investigations have been opened for insulting the president, 35,507 cases have been filed and there have been 12,881 convictions.