A court in the eastern province of Van on Jan. 7 ordered the jailed former co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Figen Yüksekdağ to pay 1,740 Turkish Liras ($291) for “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, news site Bianet reported.
Yüksekdağ has been behind bars since November 2016 on a number of terror-related charges. The Turkish government’s crackdown on the HDP began in 2016 with the arrest of high-profile politicians. President Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) accuse the HDP of having links to the outlawed PKK, but the party denies links to “terrorism” or the PKK.
The Jan. 7-dated hearing however concerns another case that Yüksekdağ stands trial, which is “insulting” Erdoğan.
Yüksekdağ attended the hearing held at the Van 7th Penal Court of First Instance via the video conferencing system SEGBİS as she is currently incarnated in the high security Kandıra Jail located in the western province of Kocaeli.
“I am a politician and sometimes can make remarks which are harsh and are not pleasing to some people, because that is my job. As a politician, I can also make harsh criticisms. This should not be a crime,” Yüksekdağ told the court in her defense.
Yüksekdağ said that her standing trial for “insulting” Erdoğan is a “political style” manufactured by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to “extend its lifetime.”
“Erdoğan is the president but also the leader of a party. This party leader is adopting a hostile manner towards us [the HDP officials]. So, whatever we politicians say, all of our remarks can be interpreted as an ‘insult’ towards the president. With these [insult] cases, their message is to us ‘do not talk, be silent,’ but we have never been silent and will never do so,” she said.
Since Erdoğan took office in August 2014 as the president, the number of cases against people who allegedly “insulted” the president has spiked.
In Erdoğan’s first term (between 2014-2018), 17,406 individuals were investigated over Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, which criminalizes insulting the president of the Republic. This marks a 2,052 percent increase compared to the term of his predecessor Abdullah Gül, during which 848 cases were filed, Turkish media outlet reports had previously said, citing Justice Ministry statistics.