CPJ criticizes Turkey for sentencing Armenian blogger to jail

Turkish authorities should reverse on appeal the jail term handed down this week to a Turkish Armenian author and blogger who was convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On Wednesday, a criminal court in Istanbul handed a 13.5-month jail sentence to Sevan Nisanyan in connection with a September 2012 post on his personal blog that allegedly insulted the prophet, according to news reports. The court ruled that the blogger had violated a part of the criminal code by “demean[ing] the religious values held by a section of the population.”

In his post, Nisanyan defended the right of people to make the video “The Innocence of Muslims,” which sparked violent protests across the Middle East in 2012. He said that speaking disrespectfully about the Prophet Muhammad did not amount to a hate crime.

Nisanyan’s defense lawyers said they would appeal the verdict.

“Jailing a journalist who addresses a sensitive subject is not appropriate in a free society,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “The appeals court should overturn this verdict against Sevan Nisanyan, which effectively criminalizes his opinions.”

After Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag asked Turkish prosecutors to take action against Nisanyan last year, 15 individuals filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office on March 5.

Nişanyan posted another blog in English on the day of the verdict, explaining why he wrote the blog in September and defending his comments. If making fun of the prophet was conflated with hate speech, Nişanyan said, freedom of speech was in grave danger in Turkey.

Local news accounts reported today that Nişanyan had been threatened on Twitter. One post, seemingly referring to slain Turkish Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, said, “the day is close that you will lie on the ground with a bullet in your head in front of the Agos [newspaper offices]. Be smart!”

“We call on Turkish authorities to immediately investigate the threats against Sevan Nisanyan and bring their perpetrators to justice,” CPJ’s Ognianova said.

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