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Journalist Gets Prison Sentence After Calling Erdogan ‘Dictator’

Syrian-Turkish journalist Husnu Mahalli, known as a prominent Middle East expert, has been handed down a 29-month prison sentence on charges of “insulting the president” and a suspended 20-month sentence for “insulting government officials,” after calling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “dictator”, online news outlet Diken reported on Thursday.

The veteran journalist / academic, who writes columns in leading opposition daily Sozcu, was arrested in December 2016 for “insulting government figures” over social media, in his columns and on TV. He was released pending trial by an Istanbul court a month later on the grounds that he was not likely to escape and the prison term sought against him was not considered lengthy.

In his defense during the sentencing hearing, Mahalli demanded his acquittal, stating that he was merely doing his job as a journalist. He said:

“I did not insult the president. I have always referred to him as ‘Mr. President’. The word ‘dictator’ does not include insult. It is an international definition relating to power held by one person”.

A lawyer representing Erdogan in the trial, who also attended the hearing, said “Our complaint still stands. As stated in the indictment, the name and position of the president were mentioned. Legal elements of the insulting crime emerged. We are asking for his conviction”.

Mahalli’s lawyer Muhterem Aktas announced later on Twitter that the 20-month prison sentence his client received for insulting government officials was suspended by the court and that he would appeal both sentences.

Former Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Baris Yarkadas tweeted on the Mahalli ruling, stating that the court was punishing free speech and freedom of expression. He added that he had been closely following the trial and he can confirm that these sentences are unlawful.”

Mahalli was born in the Syrian city of Jarablus, studied journalism at Istanbul University and obtained his PhD on international relations afterwards. His thesis was reportedly on Arab-Turkish relations.

He worked for a number of international media organizations such as BBC, NBC, along with Turkish dailies, TV channels and some radio stations, magazines and newspapers in Arabic countries.

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