Şenol Buran, the cook in charge of the cafeteria at Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, was arrested this week after telling a police officer he would refuse to serve tea to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he ever visited the newspaper’s offices.
“Insulting the president” is a crime in Turkey, as per Article 299 of the Turkish penal code. According to a report from the newspaper itself, the criminal infraction occurred during a visit Erdogan made to Istanbul on December 24.
The presidential motorcade, in town for the national Foreign Economic Relations Council’s General Meeting, triggered a chaotic traffic situation for Buran, who was late for work. Buran told his employer:
At about ten past eleven, the security chief approached me and asked why I had been so late. And I told him I had been cruising around the paper for an hour and I had gone to a whole host of places but they wouldn’t let me in. I said that I had left the car in Kuştepe and had made my way here in this cold. At this, the security chief said, “Our president is supposed to be coming, that’s why they’ve closed things. If he comes here to have a tea together with us, then you will serve tea.”
Buran says he replied by simply refusing to make the tea but said, “he was not imputing anything and made no imputations at the workplace.”
“I would not serve that man a cup of tea,” the BBC quotes Buran as saying.
Buran’s case was remanded, and Judge Selami Yılmaz scolded Buran for his transgression. “The man has pardoned everybody and you are still not behaving yourselves,” the judge alleged.
In September, Erdogan announced that he would release all Turks imprisoned for insulting him and that all pending complaints of a violation of Article 299 would be withdrawn, affecting an estimated four thousand people.
Cumhuriyet‘s cook is the latest in a long line of company employees to find themselves in trouble with the law. The newspaper, one of the few remaining secularist opposition outlets in the country, has long run afoul of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). In 2015, following the jihadist massacre at the offices of French satirical magazine
In 2015, following the jihadist massacre at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Cumhuriyet editors decided to publish a Turkish-language inset of the magazine, including some of the controversial Mohammed cartoons that had attracted the ire of the jihadists who attacked the magazine’s offices.
Turkish police raided the Cumhuriyet offices before the newspaper could distribute the special Charlie Hebdo issue, and an angry Muslim mob attacked the offices after the police raided it. The columnists who organized the inset were subsequently arrested for doing so.
Later that year, Cumhuriyet published an investigative report that suggested the Turkish government, through its MIT intelligence agency, was smuggling weapons into Syria. Police arrested the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul, who approved the publication of the story.
The two were ultimately released in February 2016 but not before a would-be assassin shot at Dündar outside a courthouse as he awaited the judge’s verdict on his case, shouting, “you are a traitor!” at him. The assassination attempt was caught on film.
In June 2016, Dündar moved to Germany, before ultimately resigning from the newspaper’s top spot in August after a leave of absence. In his goodbye column at Cumhuriyet, Dündar wrote that he initially intended to “rest a little, take care of my book, then return to work… but by then, July 15 came.” The crackdown on journalists, police, teachers, and anyone suspected of ties to Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen convinced Dündar to stay in Germany. “We have sought to carry forward the struggle of the Republic for the secular, democratic, free Turkey, without fear,” he concluded.
The staff of Cumhuriyet are far from the only Turks to find themselves in legal trouble after running afoul of Erdogan. Among those recently arrested are a dentist who compared Erdogan to the Lord of the Rings character Gollum on Facebook, a beauty queen who shared an anti-Erdogan poem on Instagram, and two teenagers who wrote anti-Erdogan posts on Facebook, ages 14 and 17.