A Turkish opposition TV channel editor on Wednesday walked free after being convicted in a high-profile trial over his on-air comments about Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Agence France-Presse reported.
Tele1 chief Merdan Yanardağ could have been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for spreading “terrorist propaganda” and “praising criminals” during one of his programs in June.
An İstanbul court sentenced the 64-year-old to two-and-a-half years in prison after finding him guilty of the propaganda charge.
But it also allowed him to walk free because Turkish jail sentences of less than three years are rarely enforced.
“I was arrested because of comments I made in a program,” Turkish media quoted Yanardağ as telling the court.
“The only thing I did in the program was criticize [ruling party] policies.”
Yanardağ’s supporters say his detention and trial highlight the erosion of civil liberties and media freedoms during two decades of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamic conservative rule.
But they also underscored the deep fissures in Turkish society about its treatment of the long-repressed Kurdish minority.
Yanardağ questioned why Öcalan — who headed an insurgency waged by the PKK until his capture by Turkish forces in 1999 — was still being held in solitary confinement on a prison island in the Sea of Marmara.
“If normal incarceration procedures were applied, he should have been released or put under house arrest,” he said in June.
“The isolation applied to Öcalan has no place in law. It should be lifted.
“Abdullah Öcalan is not someone to be taken lightly,” Yanardağ added. “He is a very intelligent person who understands politics well.”
‘Holding him hostage’
Yanardağ argued that his comments had been deliberately taken out of context and spread on social media by members of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and other staunch nationalists.
Tele1 said that Yanardağ was actually criticizing a proposal by AKP lawmakers to restart a 2013-15 peace process with Kurdish militant leaders.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies for waging a four-decade rebellion that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Erdoğan initially viewed the talks as a chance to both end the violence and find a lasting solution that involved giving Kurds broader cultural rights in Turkey’s southeast.
He pulled out of them after the July 2015 assassination of two police officers that were claimed — and then renounced — by the PKK.
Turkey soon resumed military operations against Kurdish groups that have since stretched into northern Iraq and parts of Syria.
The Tele1 debate over Öcalan started shortly after Erdoğan defeated secular opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in a May presidential election runoff.
Kılıçdaroğlu had initially courted Kurdish groups.
But he turned sharply against them after the first round in an apparent bid to steal Erdoğan’s nationalist vote.
Erdoğan’s AKP is now trying to win over Kurdish voters ahead of March municipal elections that threaten to end the opposition’s control of prized cities such as Istanbul and Ankara.
Yanardağ appeared to be trying to point out the contradictions in the AKP’s approach to Öcalan and the Kurdish cause.
“You are holding him hostage and conduct negotiations with him,” Yanardağ said on air.