An 80-year-old man was taken into police custody and interrogated on accusations of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan because he “liked” some posts shared on Facebook, the deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Erkek, announced on Saturday.
The man was interrogated on April 15, 2020 at a police station in Ankara when a coronavirus pandemic-prompted curfew for people 65 years of age and older was in force, an affidavit from the man shared by Erkek on Twitter shows.
The octogenarian, who is forbidden to leave home due to the coronavirus measures in effect, was taken into police custody on April 15 and interrogated by the police over his “likes” on his Facebook account.
The suspect, a retired public servant whose name was not disclosed, said in his defense that he was born in 1940 and had no intention of insulting state officials, that he liked the posts without reading their content or that his hand accidentally touched the phone screen because of his advanced age and poor eyesight, according to his affidavit.
“I retired in 1994 and live with my daughter. I was born in 1940 and am old. Since I got bored at home, my daughter uploaded Facebook to her phone and gave it to me. I used this Facebook account to see pictures of my relatives and to while away the time.
“I liked the posts on the account to help [account holders] gain followers and to make them happy without reading the content of the posts. Also, some of them were [probably] marked as ‘liked’ when my hand unintentionally touched the phone screen. I am old and have a cataract in one of my eyes,” the man said.
“Since the person named in the document may be a distant relative of my deceased wife, I liked his posts hoping he would call me, but I did not pay attention to the content of the posts and pages I liked. I was not even reading them,” the man explained.
The octogenarian apologized for the incident. “I do not know any of the people mentioned in this document, but I probably liked them so that their followers would increase. With these ‘likes’ I did not intend to humiliate state officials. As a matter of fact, I have not even read these posts but just looked at the images attached to them. I apologize to state officials if they contain any insult to them,” the man added.
“I am from the Çayeli district of Rize province. The president is my fellow countryman. Our villages are across from each other. I worked for the state for 32 years and then retired. I cannot even think of any insult I made to my fellow countryman, the president, and state officials. There is a misunderstanding on this issue. I had no intention of insulting or humiliating state officials. I sincerely apologize and kiss all their hands if there was a misunderstanding,” the old man said in apology.
Commenting on the incident, CHP Deputy Chair Erkek noted on his Twitter account: “An 80-year-old citizen born in 1940. He is forbidden to go outside. He was taken to a police station and interrogated because of his likes on his Facebook account. It doesn’t matter whether he contracts COVID-19 or is in danger because of his age. All that matters is one man’s pleasure.”
A second tweet by Erkek revealed that the old man’s daughter was also taken into custody and interrogated along with him on the same accusations. The woman confirmed her father’s statement, her affidavit shows.
Expressions critical of the government are frequently met with criminal charges in Turkey alleging affiliation with terrorist groups or terrorism. According to a US State Department report, during the first 11 months of 2019, “the government investigated more than 36,000 individuals and filed criminal cases against more than 6,000 people related to accusations they insulted the president or the state.” The number includes many ordinary citizens, politicians and journalists as well as minors who were prosecuted over their social media posts.
This incident that took place just one day after the enactment of an early parole bill aimed at reducing one-third of the inmate population of the country’s overcrowded prisons due to the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic bears testimony once again to the forceful stance by Turkish authorities against dissidents.
The bill provided the possibility of early parole or house arrest for a broad range of offenders, yet excluded others, political prisoners being first and foremost. Thus, a broad range of dissidents among whom were tens of thousands of journalists, lawyers, politicians, academics, human rights defenders and civil servants indicted or convicted under the country’s controversial and broadly interpreted anti-terrorism laws were left out in the cold.
This fact elicited strong criticism from both the international community and opposition groups.
“[T]he Turkish ruling parties have decided to deliberately expose the lives of journalists, human rights defenders and those whom they deem to be political opponents to the risk of the deadly disease COVID 19,” two EU parliamentarians said on April 15 in a joint statement.
Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and a prominent human rights defender, described the law as “discriminatory” and criticized the exclusion of political prisoners in a speech in parliament on the day the legislature voted on the bill, accusing the government of releasing ordinary prisoners to make room for new dissidents.
President Erdoğan has always been a staunch proponent of the idea that the state can only pardon those who committed crimes against it and not against other citizens. Yet, his track record sits uneasily with this credo.
“Our basic principle [on amnesty] is this: If a crime is committed against the state, [only then] can the state be entitled to pardon this crime. But if it is committed against individuals, the state is not entitled to extend amnesty. The sole authority that can forgive these crimes is the victimized individuals themselves. We cannot take over that authority for ourselves as the state,” Erdoğan said on September 23, 2018 on an amnesty proposal put forward by his ally, the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
He has indeed enacted in his almost 20-year-long rule two amnesties, both of which, as fate would have it, excluded political prisoners from their scope. The first of them, which was enacted immediately after a coup attempt on July 15, 2016, intended to make room for tens of thousands of dissidents in prisons.
As a matter of fact, Erdoğan has not always been so insensitive to political prisoners when it comes to his support base. In a recent case President Erdoğan granted amnesty to Ahmet Turan Kılıç, age 86, on grounds of health and age by means of a presidential decree. Kılıç had been sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment on conviction of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order due to his involvement in the Sivas Massacre. The Sivas massacre refers to the events of July 2, 1993 at the Hotel Madimak in Sivas, a Central Anatolian province, which resulted in the death of 37 people, mostly Alevi intellectuals, musicians and artists. The victims, who had gathered in the hotel for a festival in memory of Pir Sultan Abdal, a prominent Alevi poet and folk hero, died when mostly conservative zealots, accusing the group of blasphemy, set fire to the hotel where the Alevi group had assembled.
Another elderly person who was recently arrested over his links to a faith-based movement critical of the Erdoğan government can never hope for such an amnesty, be it general or individual. Yusuf Pekmezci, 81, who suffers from Alzheimers, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, was arrested in İzmir due to his links to the Gülen movement, led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen. Pekmezci, who worked as a merchant in İzmir for years and is known for his philanthropy, which included giving scholarships to students in need and opening dormitories for students, was in hiding for three years due to a widespread crackdown launched by the Turkish government on followers of the movement, labeled by the Turkish government as a “terrorist organization.”