Investigations into exercise of freedom of speech soar during Erdoğan’s presidency

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Investigations have been launched into 211,523 people in Turkey on various accusations involving freedom of expression during the first six years of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s presidency, local media reported on Tuesday, citing a recent report.

The Jurists for Justice report, titled “Evaluation of Freedom of Expression in Turkey during the Presidential Era of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (2014-2020),” was prepared using Justice Ministry data on investigations and lawsuits filed between 2014 and 2020 in terms of type of crime directly related to freedom of expression.

The report examined investigations and lawsuits filed on such charges as “insulting the president,” “degrading the Turkish nation, the Turkish Republic or the organs or institutions of the state,” “threat with the intention of causing fear and panic among the public,” “provocation to commit an offense,” “praising an offense and offender,” “provoking the public to hatred or hostility,” “violating Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations” and “disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization.”

According to the report 66,009 investigations and 12,173 cases were launched on charges of “insulting the president” from 2015 to 2017, an increase by a factor of 35 and 30, respectively, compared to the three years before Erdoğan became president.

The lawyers said new wards had been opened in prisons for people arrested on charges of insulting Erdoğan, separate from those holding people who committed other types of crimes.

Regarding data on the crime of insulting Erdoğan, the report showed that there had been an exponential increase in the number of people who faced prosecution for it until 2020 and that a slight decrease had been experienced from the previous year’s data in 2020.

“The reason for this is not the expanding of freedom of expression, but on the contrary, the widespread fear of being detained and arrested among the citizens, the avoidance of speech, sharing posts and so on about the president and even the development of self-censorship is observed to have had an effect,” the lawyers said.

The report further revealed that the Constitutional Court found 605 violations of the right to freedom of expression in 2020, 76 times more than it was in 2014, when Erdoğan came to office as president.

Critics of Erdoğan argue that the insult cases demonstrate efforts by Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to intimidate the public and opposition parties into not criticizing the government.

The insult cases generally originate from social media posts shared by people who dislike Erdoğan. The Turkish police and judiciary perceive even the most minor criticism of Erdoğan or his government as an insult.

Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey, according to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). 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.

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