Top Turkish newspaper fined for insulting President Erdogan

ANKARA (AFP) - An Ankara court on Thursday fined one of Turkey's top newspapers for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a column, as tensions between government and media grow ahead of June 7 elections.

The court deemed that the Aug 25, 2014, column by one of the star commentators on the Hurriyet daily, Mr Mehmet Yilmaz, was an "attack on the personal rights" of Erdogan.

It ordered the newspaper's chairwoman Vuslat Dogan Sabanci and Mr Yilmaz himself to pay 20,000 lira (S$10,350) in damages to Mr Erdogan, the official Anatolia news agency reported.

Mr Erdogan's lawyers had requested 100,000 lira damages in the civil case. His lawyer Muammer Cemaloglu was present in court for the verdict.

The report gave no details on the nature of the article. But Hurriyet had on Aug 25, 2014, published a lengthy article by Mr Yilmaz recalling extensive corruption accusations against Mr Erdogan, two weeks after his victory in presidential elections.

The case comes amid growing concern over the numbers of journalists, bloggers and ordinary people who are being taken to court on charges of insulting Mr Erdogan and other top officials.

Hurriyet, one of Turkey's best-selling mainstream dailies, is on occasion critical of Mr Erdogan but generally toes a very careful line.

However an open conflict has broken out between the paper's owners - the Dogan Media Group - and Mr Erdogan over his bitter criticism of its coverage of the death sentence handed to Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi.

Hurriyet's headline on the verdict, "Death sentence with 52 per cent", was severely criticised by pro-government media and Mr Erdogan himself for allegedly suggesting that the Turkish leader could share the same fate as Mr Mursi.

Mr Erdogan was elected president with 52 per cent of the vote in the August 2014 election after over a decade as prime minister.

Some commentators have ridiculed Mr Erdogan over the dispute, pointing out that the president himself pointed out that Mr Mursi had been popularly elected with 52 per cent in his own first reaction to the news.

Boldly taking on the president, the newspaper on Tuesday published an editorial denouncing his attacks against the publication.

"What do you want from us? Why do you attack us with obvious injustices, obvious distortions, and obvious attempts to guess our intentions by reading selectively? Why do you target us?" it asked.

It accused the president of making an "unfair and baseless" accusation against the newspaper.

Turkey on June 7 votes in critical legislative elections with the ruling Justice and Development Party co-founded by Mr Erdogan seeking to maintain its dominance.