Turkey is a secular state, but you’d never know it from this court verdict.
A Turkish court sentenced two journalists to two years in jail for blasphemy on Thursday, their newspaper said, after they reprinted a controversial cover from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo above their columns last year.
The writers, Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya, aren’t just working for some podunk newsletter either (not that it would necessarily make things better if they did). Their newspaper is Cumhuriyet, the oldest and probably most-respected daily in the country. Per Wikipedia:
Cumhuriyet has been particularly renowned for its impartial, occasionally courageous journalism. In 2015 it was awarded the Freedom of Press Prize by international NGO Reporters Without Borders for making a stand against the government’s mounting pressure. Shortly thereafter, Cumhuriyet‘s editor-in-chief Can Dündar and the newspaper’s Ankara representative Erdem Gül were arrested facing sentences up to life imprisonment. During the last decade, the newspaper’s staff has also been physically attacked, with the 2008 molotov attack against Cumhuriyet‘s headquarters in Istanbul’s Şişli district being particularly significant.
The latest convictions mark another dark turn in the already frayed relations between Turkey’s ostensibly free press and the government of Islamist autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
[The two] columnists for Cumhuriyet daily had faced jail terms of up to 4-1/2 years for “insulting religious values” after they reprinted the caricature of the Prophet Mohammad following the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
Muslim Turkey’s constitution strictly separates state and religion but its penal code makes it a crime to insult religion. For Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.
The two columnists are not backing down.
“We will appeal (the ruling). We will not leave this country to fascists in Islam sauce,” Karan said on Twitter.