Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is suing the main spokesman of the opposition secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) for calling him a “fascist dictator.”
Erdogan is seeking 50,000 Turkish lira (about $13,000) in damages. Prosecutors have also launched a criminal investigation against spokesman Bülent Tezcan for “insulting the president,” a crime under Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Article 299 can carry a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
Last year, following the failed coup attempt against him, Erdogan chose to drop charges against thousands of Turkish citizens who had been indicted for insulting him, though he has continued to pursue civil charges against many.
Tezcan, according to the anti-Erdogan publication Cumhuriyet, the incident occurred this week at a CHP press conference. “There are AK Party ministers, MPs from the AK Party, mayors of the AK Party, who are uncomfortable with this fascist dictatorship created in Turkey,” Tezcan told reporters, referring to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Tezcan is far from the first within his party to use the terminology. “The era we live in is a dictatorship,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu asserted at a million-strong rally against Erdogan, and in support of Turkish journalists, this July. “This is a rebirth for us, for our country and our children. We will revolt against injustice.”
At the time, an AKP spokesman referred to the CHP call for peaceful protest as “fascism.”
Erdogan sued Kilicdaroglu in January 2016 for calling him a “sham dictator,” demanding 100,000 Turkish Liras ($32,897.44) in damages. Erdogan’s lawyers argued that “there is no public interested in the speech” the sought to punish.
The CHP has consistently protested that the Erdogan has used the justice system to silence dissent, arresting Turks, some as young as 13, for insulting or criticizing him. Erdogan has particularly targeted the newspaper Cumhuriyet, one of the nation’s oldest, for taking a hard secularist stance against Erdogan’s Islamist party.
Cumhuriyet editors have been tried and faced assassination attempts for reporting news that reflects badly on Erdogan – particularly on a report that claimed that the Turkish intelligence agency (MIT) was secretly arming the Syrian anti-Assad opposition. One Cumhuriyet editor referred to Turkey as “the biggest journalists’ prison in the world.”
Police have also persecuted Cumhuriyet‘s interns and even arrest its cafeteria cook for insulting Erdogan.
The comments out of the AKP in response to this latest CHP attack do not differ significantly from then.
“Bulent Tezcan’s rhetoric of hatred is a badge of shame for the main opposition. This is not politics, but rather hostility towards the nation’s will,” Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said of Tezcan’s remark.
“If they were looking for a dictator, they should look at their own history and tradition,” Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said of the remarks. He did not clarify specifically where in the CHP’s history and tradition they should look. The CHP, a Socialist International member party, was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.
“Insulting the memory of Atatürk” is a crime under the Turkish Penal Code carrying up to a three-year prison sentence.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag argued that “if there was a fascist or a dictator in Turkey, Bulent Tezcan could not have said such a sentence,” without noting that Tezcan is facing criminal charges for having said such a sentence.
In 2014, Erdogan claimed “nowhere in the world is the press freer than it is in Turkey” and lamented that Turkish reporters can allegedly “make insults, slanders, defamation, racism and commit hate crimes that are not tolerated even in democratic countries.”