ANKARA (Reuters) - A Turkish court sentenced two journalists to two years in jail for blasphemy on Thursday, their newspaper said, after they reprinted a controversial cover from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo above their columns last year.
The judgement is likely to inflame concerns about freedom of expression in Turkey, where opposition newspapers have been seized and a number of journalists have been sued for insulting President Tayyip Erdogan.
Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya, columnists for Cumhuriyet daily, had faced jail terms of up to 4-1/2 years for “insulting religious values” after they reprinted the caricature of the Prophet Mohammad following the January 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
Muslim Turkey’s constitution strictly separates state and religion but its penal code makes it a crime to insult religion. For Muslims, any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.
“We will appeal (the ruling). We will not leave this country to fascists in Islam sauce,” Karan said on Twitter.
The secular Cumhuriyet faced security threats when it became one of five international publications that printed excerpts of the edition of Charlie Hebdo that appeared after the attacks to show its solidarity with the magazine.
Its editor, Can Dundar, and Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, are facing possible life imprisonment over charges of espionage for their reporting, in a separate case that has drawn international condemnation.
They stand accused of trying to topple the government after publishing video last May purporting to show Turkey’s state intelligence agency helping to truck weapons to Syria in 2014.
In a report last week, Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 151st out of 180 countries in the world press freedom index rankings in 2016.
Last week a prominent Dutch journalist was detained by Turkish police while on holiday, a week after she criticized Erdogan in print for clamping down on dissent.
Erdogan is known for his readiness to take legal action over perceived slurs. At his behest, prosecutors in Germany are pursuing a comedian for mocking him. Critics say Erdogan uses the courts to stifle dissent.
Editing by David Dolan and Dominic Evans