A new case has been filed against Ayhan Bilgen, the former co-mayor of Kars from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), on charges of “insulting the president,” the Cumhuriyet daily reported on Saturday.
In the indictment, which was drafted by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Bilgen is accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in public statements during two events held in Diyarbakır on Nov. 6 and Dec. 24, 2016, and in a written statement based on a meeting the former mayor attended on Oct. 21, 2016.
Cumhuriyet quoted Bilgen as saying in his statement to the prosecutor that it wasn’t possible to say his remarks amounted to “insulting the president,” an act subject to criminal charges under the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
“They [the statements] should be considered within the scope of the right to freedom of expression and criticism,” he added.
Thousands of people in the country are under investigation, with most of them under the threat of imprisonment, over alleged insults of Erdoğan. 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.
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.
A total of 160,169 investigations and 35,507 cases have been launched on charges of insulting the president over the past seven years, beginning with the election of Erdoğan to the presidency in 2014 to the end of 2020, the Justice Ministry data revealed in late September.
According to the data, 38,608 people, including 322 minors between the ages of 12 and 14 and 785 between the ages of 15 and 17, were prosecuted on charges of insulting Erdoğan in the 2014-2020 period, while 3,625 people received prison sentences.