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Turkish court cases over 'insulting' the president up 30 percent in 2018

Latest official statistics show that in Erdogan’s first term, more than 12,000 individuals were investigated over Article 299
A man walks past an election poster of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and party candidate Mehmet Ozhaseki in the Haskoy district on 7 March 2019 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

The number of criminal investigations opened in Turkey against individuals who allegedly insulted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went up 30 percent in 2018, official statistics unveiled this week have indicated.

The Turkish Justice Ministry’s “Judicial Statistics 2018” stated that 26,115 criminal investigations were conducted last year under Criminal Code Article 299, which punishes offenders with up to four years in prison.

Of these cases, Turkish courts convicted 2,462 individuals, including 19 children and 12 foreigners. Only 687 of these individuals received prison sentences, however.

It remains unclear how many of them actually served their sentences, given a lack of information on the appeal process or judgment deferrals, yet the number of convictions in 2018 was also a record breaker, considering that only 3,607 people were convicted over such charges between 1994-2017. 

The law has been frequently criticised by the Turkish opposition as well as international rights groups as a tool to muzzle free speech.

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Skyrocketing cases

Since Erdogan took office in August 2014, the number of cases against the individuals who allegedly insulted the president has skyrocketed.

In Erdogan’s first term (between 2014-2018), 12,137 individuals were investigated over Article 299 - a 1,400 percent increase compared to his predecessor Abdullah Gul.

Earlier this month, a court handed an 18-month prison sentence to Canan Kaftancioglu, a senior member of Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) - the leading opposition group - who was described as one of the main architects of the opposition victory in Istanbul in the most recent local elections.

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This week, another controversial sentence was issued against Burhan Borak due to social media posts dating back to 2014 and 2015. A local court sentenced Borak to 12 years and three months in prison, despite the defendant arguing that his posts were considered protected speech under the constitution.

“I would like to ask the judges and prosecutors who have issued this judgment: Do you feel okay with your conscience? Or you take this decision under duress?” he reportedly asked as he vowed to appeal the case.

A lawyer speaking on condition of anonymity told Middle East Eye that justice ministers serving under the Erdogan administration haven't wielded their authority to prevent flimsy cases from being opened.

"The law is quite clear. The prosecutor first needs to seek the minister's permission to launch an investigation over Article 299. The ministers haven't rejected any of the applications so far," the lawyer said.

"There are people who have shared social media posts when Erdogan was prime minister and yet they still face court cases. Ridiculous." 

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