Former pro-Kurdish HDP lawmaker gets suspended sentence on insult charges

Sırrı Süreyya Önder, a former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy, has been handed down a five-month suspended sentence for “insulting the state, the government and judicial authorities” without being told exactly what had constituted the insult, the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

Önder had already been convicted of “insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’’ in June 2022 for saying, “Erdoğan’s past is full of controversy,” during his interrogation by a prosecutor in November 2016 following the removal of his parliamentary immunity.

Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey, according to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Whoever insults the president can face up to four years in prison, a sentence that can be increased if the crime was committed through the mass media.

The court ruled that Önder be punished again for his comment in November 2016 about Erdoğan’s past as well as for a speech he gave at a rally in Diyarbakır on November 5, 2016. Önder said at the rally that some HDP deputies, including its then-co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, had been arrested and that this was done on “Erdoğan’s orders.” The court ruled that these remarks constituted an “insult to the state, the government and the judicial bodies” and handed down a five-month suspended sentence to Önder.

Önder’s lawyer, Serdar Çelebi, said it was still not known for which part of Önder’s speech he was being punished but that the line of political criticism had not been crossed in the speeches in that Önder gave in the past.

Thousands of people in Turkey are under investigation, and most of them are under the threat of imprisonment, over alleged insults of President Erdoğan. The insult cases generally stem from social media posts shared by Erdoğan opponents. The Turkish police and judiciary perceive even the most minor criticism of Erdoğan or his government as an insult.

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