Turkey’s main opposition leader faces up to 4 years in jail on Erdoğan insult charges

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Prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence of up to four years for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chair of the country’s main opposition party, due to remarks referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a “so-called” president, the Gazeteduvar news website reported on Friday.

Kılıçdaroğlu was among 20 opposition lawmakers for whom summaries of proceedings were submitted to parliament this week by the Justice Ministry, seeking the removal of their parliamentary immunity.

If parliament votes to strip the 20 deputies of their immunity from prosecution, they will be tried by Turkish courts.

In addition to the prison sentence, prosecutors seek to deprive Kılıçdaroğlu of certain rights such as the right to engage in political activity and vote as well as the ability to obtain a civil service position under Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

Erdoğan in January filed a criminal complaint against Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu due to a speech he made in the same month in addition to filing a lawsuit against him, seeking TL 1 million ($115,000) in damages for his comments.

Kılıçdaroğlu made the comments that angered Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at a news conference in parliament on the occasion of the Working Journalists’ Day, marked on every Jan. 10 in Turkey.

In his speech Kılıçdaroğlu complained about increasing government pressure on media outlets and journalists and criticized Erdoğan for his remarks that targeted the anti-government Sözcü daily.

“I don’t read Sözcü. Nobody else should waste their money on that newspaper, either,” Erdoğan told reporters when asked about a recent Sözcü report on developments in Turkey in 2020.

In its report Sözcü included the conversion of the Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque as one of the significant developments of 2020, but pro-government media outlets accused the daily of presenting it as a disaster because the report’s headline was “Disasters and tears came out of 2020.”

“What kind of a democracy and media are they [the government] trying to create? If the so-called president of a country in the year 2020 is directly targeting a newspaper and saying, ‘I don’t read that newspaper, don’t you buy or read it, either,’ think about the [government] tutelage and the pressure on the media there,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks drew harsh criticism from the AKP, with many party officials calling on him to apologize to Erdoğan.

According to a statement from Erdoğan’s lawyers, Kılıçdaroğlu violated Article 299 of the TCK, which deals with insults of the president. Whoever insults the president can face up to four years in prison, a sentence that can be increased if the crime was committed through the mass media, according to the TCK.

The prosecution of members of parliament has been possible since the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lent support to a 2016 proposal submitted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on removing deputies’ immunity from prosecution.

Thousands of people in Turkey are under investigation, and most of them are under the threat of imprisonment, over alleged insults of President Erdoğan. The insult cases generally stem from social media posts shared by Erdoğan opponents. The Turkish police and judiciary perceive even the most minor criticism of Erdoğan or his government as an insult.

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