Presidential spokesperson says briefly detained actors made remarks critical of Erdoğan

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Turkish Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın (Okan Ozer / Anadolu Agency)

In remarks that demonstrated the lack of respect for free speech and dissent in Turkey, İbrahim Kalın, the spokesperson for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said two prominent Turkish actors who were briefly detained on Monday face legal action because they used expressions critical of Erdoğan and his government.

The actors, Metin Akpınar and Müjdat Gezen, were released on probation on Monday including an overseas travel ban after their questioning by a prosecutor on allegations of threatening and insulting Erdoğan during a TV program on Halk TV.

“I watched the program late. It is impossible to accept the words [they used] and tolerate them under the cover of humor. Even if they were for humor, that is not the way to do it. The expressions [used by the actors] were critical of the current government and our president. Those words are not aimed at the Roman period but at today’s Turkey,” said Kalın.

He was speaking at a news conference following a Cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Ankara’s Beştepe neighborhood on Monday evening.

In their defense, the two actors said their remarks were within the limits of criticism and humor but were distorted. The court released them on the condition that they appear at a police station once a week to prove that they did not violate the probation.

Akpınar spoke on the popular TV show about the nature of fascism and said in fascist regimes the leaders can be executed. The actor also suggested democracy as the only remedy to the polarization that Turkey faces.

Taking the comments personally, Erdoğan in a speech on Sunday targeted both actors and argued that their purpose was to send him to execution.

“They will pay the price in the judiciary,” Erdoğan said, claiming that the actors had threatened to hang the president of the country. A few hours after Erdoğan’s remarks, the two actors were called into the office of the prosecutor to defend themselves.

Turkey has been cracking down dissidents under Erdoğan’s rule, particularly after a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. People from all walks of life are in pre-trial detention on charges of disseminating “terrorist propaganda.”

Turkey is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is legally bound under both to respect freedom of expression. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has made clear that any efforts to protect a head of state “cannot justify conferring on him or her a privilege or special protection vis-à-vis the right to … express opinions about him or her.”

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