3800 people sentenced for insulting president Erdogan in Turkey in 2019

 Human rights organisations criticising the Turkish government for suppressing the dissent 

More than 3,800 people in Turkey sentenced for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2019, a new report has revealed. A total of 36,066 people faced criminal investigation in 2019 for allegedly insulting president Erdogan, who was first elected in 2014 to the position of president.

The insult of president is a criminal offensive in Turkey under the penal code and if proven could land one in prison for 4 years. And if insulted publicly, then sentence can be longer.  

The Turkish judicial system handed out over 3,831 prison sentences for the charge, up 87 percent from 2018 when 2,046 people were sentenced, according to the Turkish news outlet BirGun.  The arrests on this charge have increased in recent years.

The human rights organizations have called on Turkey to end prosecutions for acts of “insulting the president,” and accused the government of using the law to silencing the dissenting voices and fair criticism.

According to Henri Barkey, a fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations has pointed out that the Turkish judicial system is “under tremendous pressure to prosecute any criticism of Erdogan. “The most important problem is that the judicial system is no longer independent in Turkey - it basically follows directives from the presidential palace.”

There was an uproar and outrage in 2014 when a 16 years old  leftwing school student was arrested on the charges of insulting the president. He made a speech in a rally organised  by a left wing organisation and criticised the president Erdogan. He was later released after the media and opposition parties condemned the arrest and demanded his release. 

Many journalists and writers were sentenced for writing critical articles. According to the exiled Turkish journalist Bulent Kenes who was indicted and given three life sentences plus 15 years in prison in Turkey after writing a column critical of Erdogan in July 2016. He escaped the punishment and now lives in Europe.

The Turkish government under president Erdogan has drawn a thin line between a critical comment and an insult. “I received a number of prison sentences since 2015 for allegedly insulting Erdogan just because of my ordinary criticism against him. I can promptly underline the fact that the overwhelming majority of the so-called ‘insult’ cases have nothing to do with a real insult.”

The Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member, issued an opinion on Turkey’s Article 299 – which criminalizes insulting the head of the government - arguing that “a clear distinction should be made between criticism and insult.”

The council also voiced concern for the large number of convictions of journalists, like Kenes, and the widespread practice of self-censorship.

                                                               Khalid Bhatti 


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