Gerçek Gündem.com ('Real Agenda') internet news site publication director Barış Yarkadaş faces a prison sentence of five years and four months on the grounds of publishing a reader comment which allegedly constituted an insult to President Abdullah Gül. The first hearing of the case was heard at the Kadıköy (Istanbul) 7th Criminal Court of First Instance on 3 March.
Yarkadaş stated in the hearing, "We closed the site to postings of reader comments regarding Abdullah Gül in order not to face yet another court case. In a way we implemented auto-censorship".
RSF: Attempt to oppress critics
The international organization of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) based in France closely observes Yarkadaş's case. RSF said in an announcement that putting Yarkadaş on trial was an "attempt to oppress critics".
Gerçek Gündem.com had also published comments regarding Turkey uttered by Armenian President Serj Sarkisyan. Yarkadaş previously stood trial for posting a reader comment sent by a person alias "Türkeli27" saying that "Sarkisyan challenged Turkey due to the attitude of Gül".
Currently, Yarkadaş is charged with "insult of the President" according to articles 299/1, 2, 3 and 53 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK).
Website banned comments on the president
Yarkadaş attended the hearing on Wednesday together with his laywers Nalan Gonca Çelik, Metin Florinalı, Erdal Doğan and Sennur Beyboğa. The joint attorneys requested the acquittal of their client. Based on the principle of personal crime they demanded to drop the case.
Yarkadaş claimed in the hearing: "We have no intention to insult the President. In fact, I did not commit the crime I am accused of. I am prosecuted for a comment that I did not write"
"We removed the comment from the site without any legal obligations to show that we have no intent of insult. The comment was posted on the site during a time when we did not apply filters to the thoughts sent by our readers. Upon receiving the complaint, we installed new software to audit the comments. Our site is completely closed to the posting of comments regarding the President now".
Yarkadaş said that they applied this kind of auto-censorship in order not to face yet another trial. Also lawyer Doğan described the application as "auto-censorship".
Judge Tahsin Doğan asked Yarkadaş which control mechanisms were currently implied for the publication of reader comments. Yarkadaş replied, "Defamation and criticism are up to everyone's personal perspective. We post comments according to our legal knowledge and our discernment. It is up to you to decide on this".
Yarkadaş pointed out that the Informatics Crime Branch Directorate confirmed that the comment was written by a reader in Denmark. "We are tried based on a comment we did not write ourselves. This kind of cases can be found in different countries all over the world. So if there is a crime constituted, the referring topic is removed. We did just the same", Yarkadaş said. The trial is to be continued on 9 June.
The hearing was attended by Akşam newspaper writer Mustafa Dolu, Republican People's Party (CHP) Press Adivsor Veysi Şahin and CHP Treasurer İlhan Çelik among others. (EÖ/VK)
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