Turkish opposition member says reporter’s punishment was political

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Istanbul (Reuters) – An opposition member of Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog accused the agency on Monday of intimidating government critics, as it fined a TV channel for broadcasting comments by a journalist who was jailed at the weekend.

Ilhan Tasci, the watchdog member, told Reuters that any fine that the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) issued over the reporter Sedef Kabas was “very clearly” political in nature.

Kabas was jailed pending trial on a charge of insulting the president over a proverb that she said on opposition TV channel Tele 1 and wrote on Twitter.

The proverb drew condemnation from President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications head and the justice minister.

RTUK convened an extraordinary meeting on Monday, fined the channel on charges of inciting hatred and banned the next five episodes of the show on which Kabas made the comments, Tasci said on Twitter.

RTUK did not immediately comment on whether it acted in response to comments from government authorities.

Tasci, one of a minority of RTUK members appointed by parliament’s opposition parties, said in the interview that the extraordinary meeting was unnecessary given a regular meeting was scheduled later this week, showing the regulator was biased and “in a rush” to punish.

“This is a reflection of the effort to oppress broadcasters’ freedom of thought and speech. It is aimed at intimidating the section of the public that thinks differently, and that can question and criticise the government,” he told Reuters before the fine was announced.

Tens of thousands have been charged and convicted over the crime of insulting the president, which carries a jail sentence of one to four years, since Erdogan’s shift to president from prime minister in 2014.

Between 2014 and the end of 2020, 160,169 such investigations were launched, 35,507 cases were filed and there were 12,881 convictions, official data shows.

The Union of Bar Associations said detaining Kabas at dawn for the alleged crime and jailing her “has the qualities of intimidation.”