Turkish journalist who was attacked with baseball bats jailed for insulting president

Yavuz Selim Demirağ, a columnist for the Turkish nationalist daily Yeniçağ who was hospitalised on May 11 after being attacked by a group of five or six people with baseball bats, was put behind bars on Thursday for insulting the president, Turkish news site Diken reported.

Demirağ was attacked by the group outside his home in the capital of Ankara after appearing on a TV show. He was the third victim of a wave of assaults that targeted four critical journalists in May.

The journalist has now been sentenced 11 months and 20 days in prison, reportedly for “insulting the president” during a talk he gave at a conference in 2015. Demirağ has rejected the charges as politically motivated and said one of the police officers who prepared the case against him was a member of the Gülen religious movement, a secretive group that is now outlawed in Turkey.

"The ruling was made in absentia. The judge didn't even listen to me," the journalist wrote in his last article a day before he was jailed.

The number of cases launched against people suspected of insulting the president, a crime according to Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, has increased dramatically since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected president in 2014. Since then, over 12,000 people have reportedly been tried on the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of four years, or longer if the insult was made publicly.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Desir, demanded Demirdağ's freedom in a tweet on Thursday and called for the annulment of Article 299.

Journalists face a difficult atmosphere in Turkey under Erdoğan's Justice and Development (AKP) government, which has maintained the title of "the worst jailer of journalists" for the past three years, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).