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Turkish Journalists Accused of Promoting Armenian Genocide Narrative Acquitted

Former bianet journalists Haluk Kalafat and Elif Akgül
Photo Credit: bianet

Former bianet journalists Haluk Kalafat and Elif Akgül have been acquitted of charges under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which penalizes "publicly insulting the Turkish nation." The charges related to six articles published on bianet in 2015, 2018, and 2019, which were accused of promoting the Armenian Genocide narrative.

The acquittal took place during the fifth hearing at the İstanbul 2nd Penal Court of First Instance. Lawyer Veysel Ok from the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) defended the journalists, arguing that the prosecution's case was based on subjective interpretations rather than concrete evidence. The judge ruled for acquittal, stating that the alleged act was not defined as a crime by law. The detailed reasoning behind the court’s decision will be released in two weeks.

Former bianet journalists Haluk Kalafat and Elif Akgül
Photo Credit: bianet

In March 2019, a complaint was filed accusing the journalists of "Armenian Genocide propaganda." The Ministry of Justice authorized the investigation in June 2021, leading to an indictment in December 2022. During the trial, the defense consistently argued that the journalists were unfairly targeted for their reporting, which adhered to universal journalism principles and did not incite hatred or hostility.

Article 301 is a law that makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation, or Turkish government institutions. Initially criminalizing “insulting Turkishness,” it was amended in 2008 to refer to the "Turkish nation." The law has been the basis for numerous legal cases and has attracted criticism for its impact on freedom of expression.

The Armenian Genocide refers to the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Between 1915 and 1923, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were systematically exterminated. The term "genocide" was first coined by Raphael Lemkin, who cited the Armenian case as a defining example. However, the Turkish government has historically denied the genocide.

The trial of Kalafat and Akgül drew attention from international press freedom organizations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the Clooney Foundation. These organizations have long criticized Turkey's use of Article 301 to suppress free speech, especially concerning sensitive historical topics like the Armenian Genocide.

The acquittal of Kalafat and Akgül highlights ongoing tensions between freedom of expression and national sensitivities in Turkey. While the court’s decision is a positive outcome for the journalists, it shows the precarious state of press freedom in the country. The use of Article 301 continues to be a tool for silencing dissent and controlling narratives about the past, particularly the Armenian Genocide.


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