Turkey Sentences Woman to Year in Prison for ‘Obscene’ Hand Gesture at President

Turkish Erdogan

A court in Turkey has sentenced Filiz Akinci to 11 months and 20 days in prison over an obscene hand gesture she allegedly made two years ago towards then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now president.

“I am not guilty. I didn’t commit any crime,” she cried in court.

On March 16, 2014, the economist and mother of two supposedly performed the hand gesture and spewed “insulting statements” towards Erdoğan as his bus passed her.

Security guards stormed into the woman’s home, without any identification, to detain her. They dragged her to the “police station while she was dressed in her pajamas.”

The İzmir 41st Court of First Instance hosted the sixth hearing on Wednesday, “in which Erdoğan was the complainant.” The defendant appeared with her lawyer Anıl Güler and Erdoğan’s lawyer Sema Cansu Bozkurt Sütçü.

Today’s Zaman reports:

Her lawyer Güler said there were two witnesses to the incident, one of whom is a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which Erdoğan was the leader of at the time, and the other from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a right-wing party. Stating that there is no concrete evidence supporting the allegation that his client committed the crime, Güler demanded her acquittal.

Judge Hakim Oruç said the CDs in the case file were examined by experts and there were no recordings proving that the suspect made the alleged hand gesture; however, he pointed to the statements of witnesses and police officers claiming that Filiz A. made the offensive hand gesture. The judge decided to sentence Filiz A. to six months in prison and then raised the sentence to 11 months, 20 days due to the complainant’s being a public official. The court did not suspend the prison sentence as Filiz A. had a previous criminal record. After the hearing she was seen in tears, with her lawyer saying that they would appeal the decision.

Turkish Penal Code Article 299 makes it “a criminal offense to insult the president.” The offender may receive one to four years in prison.

On Monday, Erdoğan sued opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for calling the president a “sham dictator.”

Erdoğan’s lawyers wrote in their petition filing:

There is no public interest in the speech subject to the case. The defendant did not taken [sic] public interest into account while criticizing our client; he has exceeded the boundaries of criticism and attacked the personality rights of our client, while it was possible to make criticism with expressions other than these unfair and unlawful expressions.

Turkey has a history of following up and punishing alleged insults toward President Erdoğan.

Erdoğan took his rival to court in September 2015 after Kılıçdaroğlu played “leaked tape recordings involving corruption claims that engulfed former government officials during his tenure as prime minister.”

A year ago, officials arrested former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac because she quoted a poem on social media that insults the president.

In March, the police arrested a 13-year-old boy during class over an insult against Erdoğan on Facebook. A few weeks later, a court sentenced two cartoonists to 11 months in prison over a cartoon that implied the president is a homosexual.

The government forced a private firm to fire a custodial staffer after she allegedly insulted Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Facebook. At first, the firm refused to fire her, but changed its mind when officials threatened to award the cleaning contract to another firm.

Authorities detained a 17-year-old at the end of last year for allegedly mocking the president on Facebook.