Erdoğan Kılıçdaroğlu debate over insult cases

CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu and President Erdoğan debated over insult lawsuits that the president filed against CHP leader. The question is bigger than civil suit for damages, the “Insult of President of Republic” crime affects thousands in Turkey. (Photo: CHP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s announcement that he has withdrawn 17 insult and defamation lawsuits against opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has started a new debate in politics. Claiming that the cases that were withdrawn are those that will end in his favor, Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdoğan of carrying out a “propaganda operation” and said, “Who are you to forgive me?”

“Because the person (Erdoğan) has destroyed Turkish law, he is withdrawing the remaining cases in order not to embarrass the world even more; “It is all is propaganda,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, on Nov. 21 in a written statement.

The CHP leader’s statement came after Erdoğan criticized Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement of “made amends” during ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Parliamentary Group meeting and said,

“Have I withdrawn the lawsuits I won against you? I shot. But you did not understand the value of these.”

Kılıçdaroğlu announced that the number of lawsuits filed by Erdoğan against the CHP leader since 2011 is 44, and 21 of these lawsuits have been concluded.

“Of the 21 finalized cases, 18 were concluded in my favor and 3 cases were concluded against me. Of the 3 cases that were concluded against me, 2 of them went to the ECtHR and were concluded in my favour.” said.

60 thousand inquiries in 6 years

The debate, which started with Erdogan’s withdrawal of the civil lawsuits he brought against Kılıçdaroğlu, also brought up the other burning issue in Turkey; that is the criminal offence “Insulting the President of the Republic,” which is actively used against those who criticize Erdoğan.

The crime of “Insulting the President” is regulated under Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code under the title of “Offences against the symbols of state sovereignty and reputation of its organs” offences against the sovereignty of the state and the dignity of organs” and stipulates prison sentence one to four years. Prosecution is subjected to the permission of the Ministry of Justice.

According to the Justice Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice, General Directorate of Criminal Records and Statistics, the number of investigations opened in 2020 due to Article 299 of the TCK is 31,297. Of these investigations, 7,790 of them, almost a quarter of them, were prosecuted.

The number of investigations opened due to this penal provision has increased significantly since Erdogan was elected president in 2014. The total number of investigations opened for this crime between 2014 and 2020 is 160,169.

While there were only 682 investigations in 2014, we see that this number has peaked after the coup attempt on Jul. 15 2016, reaching 38,254 in 2016, 20,539 in 2017, and 26,115 in 2018.

The number of inquiries for the crime “Insulting the President” significantly increased after Erdoğan has elected as president in 2014. (Graphic: Özlem Tuzcuoğlu)

Akdeniz: turned into an element of oppression

Lawyer Yaman Akdeniz, an IT Law expert and one of the founders of the Freedom of Expression Association, states that this law was “used as a political silencer” after the transition to the Presidential system.

“The target of this law is not only opposition deputies, but also ordinary citizens. Courthouses are overflowing with citizens who are on trial for this reason. There are people who are prosecuted for liking a post written by a third party on social media.”

Speaking to YetkinReport, Akdeniz stated that the probability of being punished in insult investigations is very high, that “most of the trials do not result in acquittal for the prosecuted and the trials take a long time”.

Akdeniz said, “Since it is a public trial, sometimes the courts ask the representatives of the presidency whether they come to the court to make a complaint or not. This turns into an indirect pressure tool on the courts”.

Stating that article 299 is a restrictive and problematic article in terms of freedom of expression and press freedom, Akdeniz explained why the article should be removed from the penal code (decriminalized): “It is used to protect authorities against criticisms which are in public benefit. It should be operated in reverse, that is why it should not be included in the criminal law.”

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