If a novelist becomes president...
Novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan testifies in “insult” case, says the court case “should be dropped if Erdoğan and I are equal before the law”
Renowned journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan appeared on Thursday before a judge in the latest hearing of a case in which he is charged with “insulting the president” in remarks during a television program in September.
Altan, held in pre-trial detention since September in a separate case in which he faces accusations of “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey” and “membership in a terrorist organization,” said the court case against him should be dropped on the basis of a previous ruling handed down in response to an insult complaint against Erdoğan.
He maintained that his remarks on Bugün TV, which later was closed down, were criticism directed against Erdoğan, who he said was exceeding his constitutional limits and acting, as he himself also admits, as a “de facto” president with boosted executive powers.
Altan, who attended the hearing at the İstanbul 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance through video conferencing from İstanbul’s Silivri prison, then proceeded to explain his case with an example based on an imaginary scenario, in which he, as a novelist, joins politics and eventually gets elected as president. “Now, if a literary critic comes up and says that I have written a terrible novel and that I am a terrible writer, would this critic be put on trial for insulting the president? Does the fact that I am a president make it a crime to criticize the novels I wrote? Does the fact that I am a president make me above all kinds of criticism? Wouldn’t it be a hokey-pokey designed to cheat the law to attempt to put the critic who criticizes me and my novel on trial for ‘insulting the president’?” he asked.
“Erdoğan agrees with me”
Insisting that his criticism towards the president cannot be considered insult, Altan said the president agrees with him as well, as shown in a petition he submitted in April 2016 to a court overseeing his trial in an insult case that was launched by a well-known Turkish academic, Professor Baskın Oran, against his remarks targeting academics.
In that petition, Erdoğan defended his case through the case-law of the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, stipulating that the freedom of expression the freedom of expression is applicable also to information or ideas that are regarded by the state or a segment of the society as offensive, shocking or disturbing.
“I certainly agree with Erdoğan on this matter,” Altan said. He reminded that the court eventually ruled that Erdoğan’s statements targeting the Turkish academics, including such strong words as “ignorant,” “traitor,” or “immoral,” did not constitute a crime and rejected Oran’s complaint.
Altan then said that the current case against him should also be rejected if everyone is equal before the law. “Unless there are laws implemented differently to different individuals, if I and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the rest of the 80 million citizens are equal before the law, this court case against me should also be rejected or at least result in acquittal according to the very justified defense submitted by Erdoğan,” he told the court.
President insists on complaint
The president has first withdrawn his complaint against Altan as part of a decision to withdraw all his complaints in insult cases as a one-off gesture in late July but his lawyers later said that the complaint remains.
Lawyer Ömer Faruk Karagüzel, who represented Erdoğan at Thursday’s hearing, said Altan argued the president had exceeded his limits but did not offer any statement to support this claim. He insisted that Altan’s televised remarks went beyond criticism, constituting insult, and said he should therefore be punished.
The court adjourned the case to June 20.
The prosecutor demands up to 4 years and 8 months in jail for Altan under the Article 299 of the Turkish Criminal Law (TCK), which covers the crime of “insulting the president.”