Insulting Erdoğan is only defamation, Turkish court rules

An Ankara court ruled that a defendant charged with insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan should be tried under anti-defamation laws, which carry more lenient penalties, daily Cumhuriyet reported on Monday.

The defendant in the case “committed the crime of defamation against Erdoğan not due to his actions as the President, but a political figure, the leader of a party,” the court said.

Insulting the president is a crime according to Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

The president has not been a neutral entity in the eyes of the law since the 2017 constitutional referendum, which established the current executive presidential system and allowed presidents to remain at the head of their political parties, according to the court.

The defendant in the case referred to Erdoğan as an “imp” on social media, and said those in the opposition would “remember Erdoğan for stealing,” following the annulment of the June 2018 elections, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary super majority for the first time since it came to power in 2002.

The court ruled that the word “imp” constituted defamation, but not insulting the president, which the defendant’s lawyers argued applied to the previous status of the office of the president, which was “above all political parties,” and not the current one.

The relevant article of the TCK did not foresee a situation where the president would also be the chairman of the governing political party, and the court said, adding that the allegation of “stealing,” referring to possible election fraud, constituted political criticism, albeit a harsh one, and could not be prosecuted.

More than 1,800 people have faced the charge by 2018, following Erdoğan’s inauguration in 2014, including a Turkish man who was detained last month when he attempted to send a notarised letter of complaint to the president.