Turkish officials resumed the crackdowns on free speech after a court fined the country’s opposition leader for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), was fined 10,000 Turkish liras ($3,805.60) after Erdoğan claimed the man “insulted him with statements that were vulgar, hurtful and contained criminal insinuations.” Erdoğan’s protest is over a speech from January 2013. At the time, Erdoğan “was the prime minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).”
However, Kiliçdaroglu’s lawyer, Celal Çelik, told Judge Mustafa Satiş that “his client used ‘solid facts’ in order to enlighten the public during the speech in question, which was actually ‘in the interests of the public.’”
Erdoğan attempts to present the NATO country as one with freedom of speech and a free press. His attacks after he became president show the world another story. Authorities arrested former Miss Turkey, Merve Buyuksarac, 26, because she quoted a poem on social media that insults Erdoğan. The police even dragged out a 13-year-old boy from his class after he allegedly insulted Erdoğan in a Facebook post.
The government also sentenced two cartoonists, Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydotoğan, to eleven months after they drew a magazine cover that implies Erdoğan is gay:
Baruter and Aydoğan’s cover shows Erdogan in the background of two civil servants shaking hands, with one making a hand gesture towards Erdogan–his thumb and index finger forming a ring. While in the United States this hand gesture is at the center of a popular adolescent game, in Turkey it indicates that the target of the hand gesture is gay.
The man making the hand gesture in the cartoon says to Erdogan “Congratulations, sir. Welcome to your palace,” while Erdogan responds “What a bland celebration. We could have at least sacrificed a journalist [to eat].”
A young cleaning lady lost her job in a private firm after she allegedly posted insults against Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Facebook. The local government in the Çanakkale province pressured the cleaning company to fire her, but they refused, as they believe in “freedom of expression rights.” The government decided to award the cleaning contract to another firm, which fired the girl right away.
The 19th Criminal Court of First Instance in the Gaziantrep province convicted and charged journalist Yaşar Elma with “insulting a public servant” after he liked a remark on Facebook that criticized Erdoğan.
There are plenty more instances of Turkish authorities arresting people over alleged insults against Erdoğan, but that would turn into a short story. Simple lesson: Do not insult the president.