A Turkish journalist at a critical nationalist daily who was hospitalized after being attacked by a mob with baseball bats last month was arrested on Thursday for insulting the president but was later released on the grounds that the prison was full, Tele1 news portal reported on Friday.
Yenicag’s columnist Yavuz Selim Demirag was reportedly jailed after he went to a prosecutor on Thursday to serve his sentence of 11 months and 20 days in prison over defaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Demirag was allegedly released under judicial control due to the fullness of the Ayas Prison in the capital Ankara.
The columnist told the daily on Friday that his release was in fact due to the upcoming Istanbul rerun of the mayoral election.
“The power of the press has played a role [in the release decision]. I think the reactions through social media and the press intimidated them [Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)]. Under normal circumstances, they would not easily release [me]. I believe that they feared to lose the rerun,” Demirag said.
Ekrem Imamoglu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the Istanbul mayoral vote on March 31, beating the AKP candidate by a small margin. The Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) ruled a rerun poll in Istanbul at the request of AKP, ousting Imamoglu after a few days of taking office as mayor. The rerun is set for June 23.
“If I could normally write one, I will now write five. If I could under normal conditions speak ten [times], I will now do a hundred. Everything is going to be fine,” vowed Demirag, referring to an opposition slogan that became popular after Imamoglu’s speech.
In response to the YSK’s rerun ruling, the deposed Istanbul mayor Imamoglu delivered an arguably enthusiastic speech themed ‘everything is going to be fine’ and called on the public figures to speak out against the unjust ruling.
Demirag attacked in May along with three more journalists
Known as an outspoken critic of Erdogan and his AKP, Demirag was assaulted outside his home in Ankara following a TV appearance, the third victim of a wave of attacks that targeted four critical journalists in May.
The six assailants were released by the prosecution following their plea, claiming that the attack was sparked by a dispute over a vehicle.
Similarly, in April a man who attacked CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu at a soldier’s funeral was released pending trial only a day after his arrest.
‘Insulting the president’ is a crime in Turkey
According to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), ‘defaming the president’ is a crime in Turkey which could result in a four-year prison sentence, and even longer if committed publicly.
The number of people who have been prosecuted and convicted according to Article 299 has risen rapidly since Erdogan took office as president in 2014.
The number of people prosecuted in 2014 was 132. The number rose to 1,953,in 2015, then to 4,187 in 2016 with a record 6,033 in 2017.
Figures released by the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate of Judicial Records and Statistics put the number of actual convictions at 40 in 2014, 238 in 2015, 884 in 2016 and 2,099 in 2017.