Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on Monday that authorities had detained a man who posted a video on social media insulting Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic.
The arrest came after a video circulated on social media of the man, who has not been publicly identified, insulting and hitting a statue of Atatürk in the capital of Istanbul.
As noted by Hurriyet, “Thousands of people took the issue to Twitter with the hashtag ‘AtayaUzananEliKırarız!’ (‘We will break the hands [of those] insulting Atatürk’ in English), calling for the man’s detention and an investigation into the incident.”
“The person who recorded the video in which Atatürk is insulted and the person making the insult has been detained by Turkish police,” Soylu wrote on Twitter on Monday.
Turkish Law 5816 (“The Law Concerning Crimes Committed Against Atatürk”), designed to “protect Atatürk’s memory,” makes any insult against the secularist founder of the republic a crime. Those found guilty of insulting Atatürk’s face punishment of up to three years in jail.
Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923 following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. His leadership was characterized by a strong belief in secularism, separating Islam from politics, and constructing a legal system independent of religious law. He remains a highly revered figure in Turkish political life, particularly among the members of his Republican People’s Party (CHP). The country has also dedicated a holiday in his name: Commemoration of Atatürk, Youth, and Sports Day on May 19th.
Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s government has rejected much of Atatürk’s philosophy. While Erdogan often praises Atatürk and claims that he would be supportive of his legacy, he has publicly condemned some of the founder’s policies, including the reformation of the Turkish language, which Erdogan accused of polluting Turkish with “unpleasant, dull and soulless words.”
The 64-year-old leader has also championed a series of religious reforms intended to Islamize the country’s education system, a move that goes against Atatürk’s vision of a secular state.
Under Erdogan’s Islamist regime, attacks against Atatürk have become more frequent. Last week, Turkish prosecutors ordered the detention of a school teacher who described Atatürk on social media as the “the biggest devil of the 20th century.” Outside of social media, instances of individuals attempting to destroy statues of Atatürk, common nationwide, have increased in frequency.