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Turkish prosecutors have sought a prison sentence of up to three years for journalist and news anchor Fatih Portakal, alleging that he broke the law in a Tweet which implied that the state was borrowing from banks amid economic difficulties exacerbated by the coronavirus epidemic. 

“We’re going through difficult times. And now they want money from those with bank deposits or savings! Unfortunately I can’t say that this is entirely out of the question,” tweeted Portakal, an anchor on Turkey’s Fox TV channel. Portakal hosts one of the most popular programs in the country is among the few dissenting voices that remain in mainstream media. 

In their indictment, prosecutors accuse Portakal of violating banking legislation by attempting to create the perception that the state is using the coronavirus as an excuse to borrow money from those holding bank savings or deposits, only to pay it back once the epidemic is over.   

Portakal’s Tweet was in response to a speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this month in which he referenced the Tekalif-i Milliye (National Responsibilities) that were imposed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic in 1921, during the Independence War. These included high taxes to fund the war as well as financial contributions from all families.  

Controversy over this reference quickly led Vice President Fuat Oktay to deny that the government was planning on collecting extra income or special taxes. 

In his written defense, which was included in the indictment, Portakal said that his Tweet was ironic.