ANKARA: A Turkish court on Thursday sentenced two prominent Turkish journalists to two years behind bars for illustrating their columns with a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, their lawyer said.
The sentence handed to the columnists for the opposition Cumhuriyet daily Hikmet Cetinkaya and Ceyda Karan – which is still subject to appeal – comes amid growing alarm over press freedoms in Turkey.
“The two journalists were sentenced to two years each in jail,” said Bulent Utku, the lawyer of the pair. “But we will appeal the ruling at the appeals court,” he told AFP.
Karan and Cetinkaya went on trial in January last year on charges of “inciting public hatred” and “insulting religious values” after illustrating their columns with the controversial cartoon.
The opposition Cumhuriyet had published a four-page Charlie Hebdo pullout translated into Turkish that marked the French satirical weekly’s first issue since the deadly attack on its Paris offices by gunmen in 2015.
The edition did not include the controversial front cover featuring Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), but a smaller version of the cartoon was included twice inside the newspaper to illustrate columns on the subject by Karan and Cetinkaya.
Most media in Turkey had refrained from publishing the cover and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at the time had condemned the publication of cartoons of the Prophet (pbuh) as an “open provocation.”
The Cumhuriyet daily, which staunchly opposes the Islamic-rooted government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been regularly targeted by prosecutions as concerns grow over freedom of speech in Turkey.
Its editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul are currently on trial on charges of revealing state secrets and could face multiple life sentences if found guilty.
Karan, on her Twitter account @ceydak, lashed out at the Turkish government, saying: “Let our two-year sentence be a gift for our liberal fascists #JeSuisCharlie.”