ANKARA: New statistics released by the Turkish Justice Ministry show a record number of people have been prosecuted for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with many of the accused being minors.
A total of 128,872 probes were launched in Turkey in the past six years over insulting the president, 9,556 of which resulted in imprisonment. Criminal cases were launched for 27,717 of these files.
In this period, 903 minors – between the ages of 12 and 17 – stood trial for the same charge, 264 of whom were between the ages of 12 and 14.
Those convicted of insulting the president may be imprisoned for a period of between one and four years. The sentence is likely to be increased by one-sixth if the act is committed explicitly.
The statistics also show that foreigners and legal entities were sued over charges based on their social media posts. In the same period, 234 foreigners and eight legal entities were prosecuted, with nine foreigners being given prison terms.
The number of cases of “insulting” the president were lower in the pre-Erdogan period in Turkey. Turgut Ozal in early 1990s even put critical caricatures on the walls of his own residence to praise the critics.
“Those who have been investigated for insulting the President could easily run a political party together and pass the electoral threshold with the support of their relatives,” lawyer Ali Gul tweeted.
In September, former co-chair of Democratic Regions Party (DBP) Sebahat Tuncel was sentenced to 11 months of prison over charges of insulting the president, after she claimed that Erdogan was “an enemy of women and Kurds.”
According to the ruling of European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), of which Turkey is a founding member, a speech should be interpreted as a whole and concentrating on a few words to form a crime of insult should be avoided.
However, article 299 of Turkish Penal Code remains valid because of the concerns of the state establishment for “protecting public order and democratic society” and is mostly used on a selective basis.
The article is criticized by right groups and opposition as they see it as a tactic to suppress criticism in the country and to create an atmosphere of fear.
In 2014, Turkish police arrested a 16-year-old boy for insulting Erdogan during a speech at a student protest. The pupil was taken out of his class by police force – a move that went against the UN charter on child rights.
A year later, in 2015, two children, aged 12 and 13, were sent to prison over charges of insulting the president after they tore posters of his image in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.
They said they were trying to sell the paper to recyclers to make money, and did not look carefully at the pictures.
In January, Erdogan pardoned two Turkish children after a trial over their insulting him and the government on social media, provided that they apologize to him and learn nationalist poems by heart.
Recently, Turkish dissident journalist Ender Imrek was found innocent of “insulting” Erdogan’s wife, Emine Erdogan, following an article he wrote last year to criticize the “extravagance” of first lady when she was appearing in public with a $50,000-worth handbag when people in the country are seriously suffering from hunger and unemployment.
The indictment said that Imrek had insulted the First Lady by “not praising her.”
In the meantime, video streaming giant YouTube accepted the appointment of a Turkish representative in compliance with the country’s recent social media regulation — a legal move that is likely to trigger widespread censorship for online expression and open the way for more prosecutions for insulting charges.
However, other politicians in Turkey are constantly insulted and threatened with total impunity for the perpetrators.
Notorious mafia leader Alaattin Cakici, politically affiliated with the government’s coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has attacked the main opposition party Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) and its leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu several times over the past month with letters full of insults and even death threats.
MHP deputy leader Semih Yalcin recently insulted the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), calling it “a flock of insects that needs to be killed” — which also aroused fears of incitement to genocide.