Opposition leader fined due to criticism of military tank factory sale to Qatar

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A Turkish court has ordered main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to pay President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan TL 100,000 ($14,000) in non-pecuniary damages due to his criticism of the privatization of a military tank and pallet factory, Turkish media outlets reported.

Through a presidential decree in December 2018, President Erdoğan transferred the right to operate Turkey’s national tank factory for 25 years to Turkish-Qatari vehicle manufacturer BMC. It was the first time that a military facility of strategic importance had been privatized. BMC is run by Ethem Sancak, a member of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) executive body, the MKYK.

Kılıçdaroğlu on several occasions said the sale of the military factory to the Turkish-Qatari company was a betrayal of Turkey and its army. He called on Erdoğan to cancel the agreement and even promise that he would find $50 million, the amount of money for which the company was sold, and give it to the government. Erdoğan sued Kılıçdaroğlu due to what he called his “slanderous” remarks targeting him over the sale of the factory.

The Ankara court’s Thursday decision to fine Kılıçdaroğlu came against the backdrop of a recent decision from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which ruled in December that Turkey had violated the right to free speech of Kılıçdaroğlu who was found guilty in 2012 of slandering then-Prime Minister Erdoğan in two parliament speeches.

Kılıçdaroğlu criticized Erdoğan back then over a Turkish air force bombing as well as a controversial hydroelectric dam.

Erdoğan sued Kılıçdaroğlu and won, with a court imposing substantial fines that critics said were intended to discourage other opponents from speaking out against the government.

But the European court said the Turkish judges “failed to examine the offending remarks within the context and the form in which they had been made.”

“Mr Kılıçdaroğlu had given the speeches as a member of parliament,” it added, and as head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party. In this connection the court reiterated that, while being precious for everyone, freedom of expression was particularly important for an elected representative of the people.”

Kılıçdaroğlu’s lawyer Celal Çelik recalled the ECtHR decision about Kılıçdaroğlu, accusing the Ankara court of once again violating the main opposition’s leader’s right to freedom of expression and disregarding the Strasbourg-based court’s ruling.

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