Turkey opens investigation after Greek newspaper insults Erdogan

The spat comes amid tensions between Athens and Ankara over drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

al-monitor A man reads a newspaper at a kiosk in Athens, on Sept. 16, 2019. Photo by ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 21, 2020

Turkish prosecutors have launched an investigation over a headline that insulted Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a Greek newspaper last week. 

On Friday, right-wing Greek newspaper Dimokratia published the headline “F*** off, Mr. Erdogan” in Turkish, along with an English translation, in a story about the two NATO countries' dispute over drilling rights in the Mediterranean Sea. 

According to state-run Anadolu Agency, Erdogan’s lawyer, Huseyin Aydin, has filed a criminal complaint with the Ankara prosecutor’s office. The complaint described the author of the article, two editors and the newspaper’s editor-in-chief as "suspects.” Prosecutors in the capital, Ankara, have since launched an investigation into the newspaper. 

"Considering the silence of the Greek public, it is understood that this moral collapse is not limited to marginal segments," the complaint said, according to Anadolu, describing swearing as “a great shame.” 

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned Greece’s ambassador over the “despicable headline” on Friday. Fahrettin Altun, communications director at the Turkish presidency, called on Greece to hold those responsible for the "shameless" headline to account.  

“Insulting a foreign leader is nothing but a sign of helplessness and lack of reason, and does not fall within the scope of press freedom or freedom of expression,” Altun said in a letter to his Greek counterpart Friday. 

The Greek Foreign Ministry responded by saying that although it doesn’t condone the headline, freedom of the press is protected in Greece. 

“The use of offensive language is contrary to our country’s political culture and can only be condemned,” the ministry said. 

Since 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented a dramatic rise in the number of prosecutions for “insulting the president” in Turkey. The crime carries a prison sentence of one to four years. 

The Turkish government has arrested tens of thousands of people, many of them journalists, in a widespread crackdown on dissent that followed the failed 2016 coup. Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 154 out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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