Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has taken at least 268 people to court for insulting him and some now refer to him as the “offended president”.
Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code states that it is illegal to insult the president of Turkey. Recently at the funeral of legendary boxer Mohammed Ali, Mr. Erdoğan wanted to lay a cloth with Islamic scripture on the coffin. When he was denied, the Turkish president professed that he was offended. While many mocked the response on social media, for those in Turkey offending the president can have serious implications, Zeit reports.
Perhaps the most famous case involving a non-Turk who offended Mr. Erdoğan, was that of German comedian Jan Böhmermann. After reciting an incredibly raunchy and insulting poem on his television programme, the German comedian was brought up on charges for insulting the Turkish head of state. For ordinary Turks the story isn’t new, as so far Mr. Erdoğan has taken at least 268 people to court for offending him.
While officially the Turkish government counts 1,845 violations of article 299, much of the information on many of the cases is not available to the public. Istanbul-based journalists Onur Burçak Belli and Şafak Timur were able to track down 286 cases of insulting the president via records that had been made public.
The main target of the law seems to be journalists, particularly ones who are critical of Mr. Erdoğan or his policies. Article 299 specifically gives out higher penalties for journalists and media, even if they are quoting what someone else said about the president.
Can Dündar is all too familiar with the process after he was indicted by the regime, who say that his reporting of Islamic State receiving funding from the Turkish government constituted supporting a terrorist group. Mr. Dündar was recently attacked during his trial when a man attempted to shoot him before the verdict was read.
Minorities are also often over-represented in the cases involving article 299. The Kurdish minority in southern Turkey are a particular focus for the Turkish regime who deal with resistance from the Kurdish People’s Party (PKK), the organisation wanting to see the area break off and form an independent state of Kurdistan. While the PKK do commit acts of terror, sometimes the law is used to keep the average Kurd in line.
One case saw the prosecution of two teenagers for ripping down a poster with the president’s face on it, the pair being threatened with imprisonment. The 12 and 13-year-olds were eventually only acquitted because they admitted to not knowing who President Erdoğan was in the first place.
Many critics of Turkey joining the European Union or getting visa-free travel to the political bloc point to laws like article 299. Some fear that the conditions for Kurds, migrants and other minorities, like the persecuted Christians, in Turkey may mean that with visa-free travel they will migrate in the millions to Europe where they are treated more fairly.