Increasing number of Erdoğan 'insult' cases quantifies crackdown on dissent

The Justice Ministry statistics show that a total of 128,872 probes were launched between 2014-2019 for “ insulting" Erdoğan, and prosecutors have launched criminal cases for 27,717 of them. Among the offenders are journalists, authors, politicians, and even schoolchildren. In this period, 903 minors – between the ages of 12 and 17 – stood trial for the same charge.

Eren Topuz / DUVAR

Investigations were launched into 128,872 people between 2014-2019 over charges of “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to the data of the Justice Ministry. Some 27,717 out of them, including 903 children, faced prosecution, and courts sentenced 9,556 of them. A majority part of the investigations was based on social media posts.

The increasing number of “insult” cases against Erdoğan is being criticized by legal experts, who say that authorities have been violating the right to freedom of speech.

According to Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020, some 65 percent of Turkish citizens think that if they share their political views on social media, they will “get into trouble.” Turkey ranks at the top of the list among 37 countries in this respect.

Lawyer Ozan Can Özbalçık said that a 14-year-old child was prosecuted in 2018 over an Instagram post and faced charges of “insulting” Erdoğan. He said that the trial into the child was launched after one of his followers reported him to the Prime Ministry Communication Center (BİMER).

The child was sentenced to five months and 25 days in prison, which was turned into an administrative fine of 3,500 liras. The court also deferred the announcement of the verdict.

Özbalçık said that the child at the time went through a “very difficult psychological period,” and was constantly worried about if he would be sent to jail.

Self-censorship of press members

Journalist Engin Korkmaz is another person who faced charges of “insulting” the president. “We are journalists. We should be able to make some fun of politicians. There is no rule that says we will be always serious. We can criticize by making fun of them,” he said.

Since the case was launched into him, Korkmaz has been censoring himself and calling his lawyer before he shares anything on social media. “My lawyer goes through what I wrote, and then I post that. Think about where the freedom of expression of a journalist currently stands. I am no longer able to share anything with my free will,” he said.

Lawyer Özgür Urfa is also on trial for “insult” charges, saying the indictment against him concerns his appeal petition which he had written for two of his clients.

Two women were convicted on charges of “insulting public officials” during a rally of Erdoğan prior to the 2014 local elections. Urfa appealed the women's conviction and filed a petition, which later became the subject of an “Erdoğan insult” case. “Prior to my submission of this petition, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected as the president,” Urfa said.

The Istanbul 4th Heavy Penal Court sentenced Urfa to 10 months in prison and deferred the sentence. The lawyer took the case to the appeals court and is waiting for the decision.