Middle East

Trial opens of Turkish columnists over Mohammad cartoon

Riot police stand outside a courthouse in Ankara, Turkey, Monday April 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

ISTANBUL: Two Turkish newspaper commentators went on trial on Thursday for illustrating their columns with a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya, writers at the secular Cumhuriyet daily, face up to 4 1/2 years in jail on charges of "inciting public hatred" and "insulting religious values" in connection with the cartoon.

Karan and Cetinkaya were not present at the first hearing, which was attended by over 100 plaintiffs, most of whom described themselves as readers offended by the columns, Cumhuriyet reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's daughter, Sumeyye, his son, Bilal, and his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, a newly-elected lawmaker, also asked to be plaintiffs in the case, their lawyer said.

The prosecution asked the judge to issue an arrest warrant for the two journalists, who said they were out of Istanbul on a work trip.

One plaintiff named Kamil Ozcelik told the court that publishing the cartoon was like "pouring gasoline on a fire" in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

"If the court does not punish them, let us punish them," another was quoted as saying.

The hearing was adjourned to October 12.

Cumhuriyet had published a four-page Charlie Hebdo pull-out translated into Turkish marking the French satirical weekly's first issue since the attack on its Paris offices by Islamist gunmen in January that killed 12 people.

The edition did not include the controversial front cover featuring Prophet Mohammed, 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 Muslim prophet as an "open provocation."

There has been growing concern about the numbers of journalists currently facing legal proceedings in Turkey, many on accusations of insulting Erdogan.

Erdogan caused outrage in the run-up to Turkey's June 7 elections by saying Cumhuriyet newspaper editor-in-chief Can Dundar would "pay a heavy price" over a front-page story which it said proved Turkey had sent arms to rebels in Syria.

The Cumhuriyet daily, which sees itself as the voice of secular Turkey, is a vehement opponent of the Islamic-rooted authorities under Erdogan.

 

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