Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld a decision by a lower court to acquit a former senior member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) of charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the ANKA news agency reported on Friday.
The court said in its decision upholding the acquittal of Mustafa Ayan, the CHP’s former Kayseri provincial president, that the office of the president, which represents the unity of the state, should be open to criticism like other state institutions, ANKA said.
Ayan was accused in 2015 of insulting Erdoğan by the Kayseri Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for saying: “What kind of a [secret] project are you [part of]? Who are you? Just [resign] and count the money [hidden] in the shoeboxes.”
Ayan was referring to the Dec. 17-25 corruption investigations that shook the country in 2013. The probe implicated the family members of four cabinet ministers as well as the children of then-prime minister Erdoğan.
Despite the scandal resulting in the resignation of the cabinet members, the investigation was dropped after prosecutors and police chiefs were removed from the case. Erdoğan, officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the pro-government media have described the investigation as an attempt to overthrow the government.
After the local court ruled for Ayan’s acquittal, the Kayseri Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal, ANKA said, with the prosecutor’s office of the Supreme Court of Appeals expressing the opinion that the verdict acquitting Ayan should be overturned.
However, the top appeals court upheld the acquittal, stating that Ayan’s statements amounted to “heavy criticism” and hadn’t offended Erdoğan’s honor or dignity, therefore not constituting the crime of “insulting the president.”
Insulting the president is subject to criminal charges under the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), and thousands of people in the country are under investigation, with most of them facing 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.