Long-time columnist of Turkish pro-government daily quits after censorship

Özlem Albayrak, a long-time columnist of Turkey’s government-affiliated daily Yeni Şafak, announced on Wednesday that she had parted ways with the newspaper after it refused to publish her latest column criticising a court ruling against an opposition politician. 

“This article attached, which I sent to the newspaper yesterday, was not published. This was the latest example of problems over the divergence between the newspaper’s editorial policy and my opinions. Since I can no longer continue under these circumstances, I am parting ways with Yeni Şafak,” Albayrak said on Twitter. 

Albayrak’s column criticised a Turkish court’s decision on Friday to sentence Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Istanbul provincial head of the secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), to nine years, eight months and 20 days in prison in total over social media posts she made six years ago.

Albayrak said the court’s ruling had created the impression that the Turkish government was acting vindictively.

Kaftancıoğlu was handed a one-year and six-month prison sentence for making terrorist propaganda, one year, six months and 20 days for insulting public officials, two years and four months for insulting the Turkish president, one year and eight months for insulting the Turkish state and two years and eight months for provoking public enmity.

The politician was credited this year as the person behind Ekrem İmamoğlu’s mayoral election win in the city, which had been controlled by Islamist parties since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected as its mayor in 1994. 

Albayrak said in most cases courts’ rulings over social media posts depended on the political circumstances and that there were no clear criteria about which social media posts should be subject to investigations and why. 

“In short, the decision against CHP’s Istanbul head Canan Kaftancıoğlu is meaningful due to its timing and is disputable as it is based on tweets posted in the past. Moreover, the ruling did not satisfy the public’s conscience and has sparked a serious controversy,” the columnist said. 

Albayrak said even those who denounced Kaftancıoğlu’s opinions should object to the court’s ruling. “Because there is a difference between criticism and crimes like praising violence or terror. And the courts’ responsibility is not to tame citizens that express denounced opinions, but to sentence those who commit crimes, full stop,” she said.