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Anchorman faces criminal charges for criticizing Erdogan fundraising remarks

Istanbul’s opposition mayor condemned criminal complaints lodged by Turkey’s president and a banking authority against an anchorman who criticized a nation-wide fundraiser initiated by the government to help people affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking to journalist Yavuz Oghan’s YouTube channel on Tuesday, Ekrem Imamoglu declared his support for anchorman Fatih Portakal, saying he (Portakal) was merely questioning some governmental practices on the pandemic.

“[Portakal] is questioning some practices and donation drives. He is voicing his expectations for better [governmental activities against the epidemic], a journalistic act that cannot be regarded as other than freedom [of speech],” the Istanbul mayor from the main opposition secular Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) separately filed two criminal complaints of violating the country’s banking and finance laws late on Monday after the anchorman posted a Twitter message on the same day, implying that Erdogan’s government might require Turkish citizens to dig into their bank accounts to help battle the virus fallout.

In his message, Portakal referred to Erdogan’s remarks on Monday when the president cited “Tekalif-i Milliye rules”, national tax laws imposed in 1921 to allow the then government to seize 40 percent of all food, clothing, and machinery in an attempt to meet the needs of the army during Turkey’s War of Independence.

“[Erdogan] alluded to Tekalif-i Milliye. What if they [the ruling Justice and Development Party -AKP- government] ask for money from those who have deposits or savings by saying, ‘We are going through tough times.’ What if they say ‘We will pay back after the coronavirus [outbreak].’ Unfortunately, I cannot say ‘No way!'” the anchorman tweeted.

Erdogan, while calling for a national solidarity campaign against the virus outbreak, said: “With its state, institutions, and opportunities, the Turkish Republic stands by its all 83 million citizens. I express my gratitude to our people for their unity and solidarity with the state. The Turkish people who leaned over backward with ‘Tekalif-i Milliye’ orders issued with the signature of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk [founder of the Republic]. “

Last week, the opposition-held municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara initiated donation drives to gather money for their residents in need of help amid the virus crisis.

However, a day later, Turkey’s interior ministry issued a circular and banned the municipal fund-raising, citing a law that says governmental permission is needed for such donation campaigns.

Erdogan launched his own national solidarity campaign, called “My self-sufficient Turkey,” by donating seven-months salary.

So far, around 1.5 billion lira (220 million dollars) has been raised in the campaign, according to pro-government daily Milliyet.

Some social media accounts claimed that some government institutions have been urging their workers to make donations to the state.

Yavuz Agiralioglu, the spokesman of the opposition Good Party (IYI), told Fox TV on Sunday that the amount of the donation, including those collected forcibly from the public workers, was only equal in amount to one-third of Erdogan’s single special aircraft, referring to Erdogan’s lavish spending.

Erdogan’s lawyer Ahmet Ozel said in the criminal complaint that Portakal’s social media post was an offense according to the Turkish Penal Code and the BDDK law.

“Those statements [by the anchorman] are total lies which aim at manipulating the public. The president’s message, in which the importance of national solidarity was emphasized, is very clear. Contrary to the claim by the suspect [the anchorman], forcing citizens to pay money is absolutely out of question,” the lawyer said.

Similarly, the BDDK filed on Monday another criminal complaint against Portakal and released a statement on Tuesday, calling the anchorman’s remarks “unrealistic and deliberate statements about the banking and finance system of the country.”

In his interview on YouTube, Imamoglu also criticized Erdogan’s ‘Tekalif-i Milliye’ remarks.

“I think the [Erdogan’s] comparison [between today and the century-old emergency measures] was wrong. Because the situations are very different. Our nation always makes a sacrifice, as is the case today. Normally, a journalist [Portakal] criticizes [Erdogan’s] remarks,” the mayor asserted.

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