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83-year-old Turkish actor who stood trial on Erdoğan insult charges acquitted

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A Turkish court on Thursday ruled to acquit prominent actor Genco Erkal, 83, of charges of insulting the president in a trial in which the actor faced up to four years in prison, the T24 news website reported.

Erkal was investigated based on a complaint submitted in 2016. The prosecutor claimed that Erkal insulted Erdoğan in three separate tweets.

During Thursday’s hearing at an İstanbul court, the prosecutor submitted his opinion suggesting that Erkal’s tweets included political criticism, that he did not aim to insult the president and that there was no element of crime in his messages, and thus asked for his acquittal.

The court acquitted the actor of the insult charges on the grounds that there was no element of crime in his tweets.

“I am happy as justice has been served,” said Erkal following the court’s decision.

Erkal’s lawyer, Turgut Kazan, a former head of the İstanbul Bar Association, said following the trial that president insult charges are used in Turkey as a method of suppressing free speech. The lawyer said 169,000 investigations have been launched in seven years into people on charges of insulting the president, while 38,608 people have been indicted. The number of such investigations in the same period in France is only two.

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 under 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.

In a tweet on June 7, 2016 Erkal said: “Instead of meddling in the affairs of families and talking about having children or not, show us your diploma. Even if it was signed by a university president who’s your friend or even if it’s fake, let’s see it.”

Erdoğan is accused of not having a bachelor’s degree and submitting a fake university diploma instead to be eligible to run in presidential elections.

In another tweet on Nov. 16, 2016, Erkal said: “The presidential system is not enough. Let’s have an ‘a la Turca’ system.”

Through a referendum in April 2017, Turkey switched from a parliamentary system of governance to an executive presidential system that granted President Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) sweeping powers and is criticized for removing constitutional checks and balances, thus leading to a further weakening of Turkish democracy.

Erdoğan was re-elected president under the new system in 2018.

In the third tweet mentioned in the indictment Erkal said: “Oh, no! [Erdoğan] decided to destroy the beautiful Ayder plateau [in the Black Sea province of Rize], a natural wonder. He transforms everything he touches into concrete.”

Earlier this week, another İstanbul court decided to acquit veteran journalist Hasan Cemal of charges of insulting Erdoğan in two tweets he posted in 2016 and 2020.

Cemal faced eight years in prison if convicted.

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