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Turkey's Erdogan Sues Greek Newspaper Over ‘Insulting’ Headline

A web screenshot shows the homepage of the Greek daily newspaper Dimokratia.
A web screenshot shows the homepage of the Greek daily newspaper Dimokratia.

A Greek newspaper is facing criminal prosecution in Turkey from Turkey’s president, who is said to be insulted by what he perceived to be a vulgar headline. The Greek newspaper is portraying the action as an unprecedented affront to free speech. But it is finding little support from the government in Athens.

It is not the first time that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has acted to silence journalists and criticism against him.

But editors of the Greek Dimokratia daily newspaper say they are the first Greek media group in the West to be targeted by the Turkish leader outside his country. They also call the prosecution they face a parody they have no intention of honoring.

Dimitris Rizoulis, managing editor of the Greek daily, says the entire nation should be up in arms over this legal suit.

With what right, Rizoulis asked, is Erdogan bullying the newspaper, not just the editors and journalists of Dimokratia, but the nation as a whole? Authorities here should have never taken delivery of the suit, rather sent it back to Erdogan’s office. This is a parody, and Rizoulis says they have no intention of appearing before a Turkish court to give credence to Erdogan’s bid to defy free speech and, most importantly, the political claims he makes in the legal prosecution – claims that go against national interests.

Erdogan’s legal suit against Dimokratia stems from a blistering headline published last September, using a Turkish swearword to lash out at the Turkish leader at the height of a standoff with its NATO ally, Greece, over drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The Turkish prosecution order was relayed to editors of the newspaper this week, sparking public debate.

Greece’s foreign ministry and center-right government have so far chided the paper for its vulgar tone. But they have defended free speech, and officials contacted by VOA say the government would not extradite the paper’s editorial staff to Turkey for trial and potential imprisonment.

Rizoulis and four others at Dimokratia face up to five years in a Turkish prison if convicted in absentia.

"Up against such a modern dictator," Rizoulis said, "it is an honor to be considered an enemy and to be sued by Erdogan." The European Court of Human rights, he said, has vindicated several journalists, who have lashed out at public officials, calling them all sorts of names, on the grounds that their criticism adds to pluralism and democracy – even if offensive and provocative at times.

The only problem, said Rizoulis, is that any conviction of Dimokratia's editorial staff will spell logistical issues. He said he already has been notified that Turkey will place an order with Interpol for the team’s arrest, making international travel difficult.

While NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads over sea and air rights for decades, coming to the brink of war last year over conflicting drilling rights in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.

With tensions brewing anew, though, between the two age-old foes, Dimoktratia says it will not let up on its criticism of the Turkish leader, even if that spells more prosecution orders coming from Erdogan's office.