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Turkey probes journalists, musicians over criticism of state-funded news agency

Officials from Anadolu news agency request investigation of 58 public figures, among them opposition politicians, over Twitter comments
Fazil Say, an award-winning concert pianist, is among those being investigated (Twitter/@Avadnanulutas)

Authorities in Turkey have launched a large-scale investigation into 58 public figures who are accused of criticising Anadolu Agency, a publicly funded news service.

The comments were made on Twitter, and the individuals under investigation have been asked to remove the content or face suspension, local daily Today's Zaman reports.

Leading Turkish journalists, including the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet Can Dundar, and opposition politicians from the Republican People’s Party are among those reportedly being probed.

Popular singer Atilla Tas and Fazil Say, a concert pianist who has performed with major orchestras worldwide, are also under investigation, according to the opposition Hurriyet newspaper.

Say was previously given a 10-month suspended sentence in 2013 after he retweeted lines of poetry attributed to the 11-century Persian polymath Omar Khayyam, in which Khayyam mocked the Islamic vision of paradise.

Say escaped prison at the time on condition that he not commit the same offence, “publicly insulting religious values,” within the next five years.

Now, Say and 57 other suspects are being accused of “provoking hate and enmity” and “defamation, slander and intimidation”.

The complainants in the case are Kemal Ozturk, Anadolu’s former general manager who also works as a columnist for the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, and Ebubekir Sahin, who was the agency’s vice-general director for four years before transferring to an official position in the Ministry of Family and Social Policies.

Some of the comments being investigated, including that of actor Erdal Besikcioglu, stem from criticism of Anadolu’s coverage of Turkey’s local elections in March 2014, which opponents said was biased towards Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Translation: According to Anadolu Agency, [the ruling] AKP has won the UEFA cup?

Pianist Say sent a satirical tweet on 11 January, when world leaders gathered in the French capital Paris for a unity march in the wake of a series of deadly attacks.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu attended the Paris march, but walked next to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a long way from the French President Francois Hollande in the line-up of world leaders and outside the frame of most photographs of the event.

Opposition activists later circulated a video showing Hollande embracing other leaders warmly before greeting Davutoglu with a brief handshake.

The tweet for which Say is being investigated features a doctored image showing Davutoglu leading the march, ahead of Hollande and the scores of high-level officials who gathered to attend the event.

Translation: Anadolu Agency has published a photograph of the Paris march today!