A former Kurdish parliamentarian jailed in on terrorism charges has been handed down an additional prison sentence for insulting President Tayyip Erdoğan, Reuters reported, citing her lawyers.
Sebahat Tuncel was protesting the appointment of a trustee to replace a mayor in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, and the arrest of Co-mayors Gülten Kışanak and Fırat Anlı in October 2016. During the protest she called Erdoğan a misogynist. The prosecutor demanded one to four years in prison for Tuncel at a hearing in Diyarbakır on September 17, based on the argument that her manner of insult had national exposure. Tuncel’s attorney argued that her statements were within the boundaries of freedom of expression. She was sentenced last week to 11 months, 20 days’ imprisonment.
Tuncel had served in Turkey’s parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Her lawyer said her words had been taken out of context.
“The defendant said the president was an enemy of women and Kurds,” said attorney Şivan Cemil Özen. Her statements were “criticism of a political rival, which is within the boundaries of freedom of expression,” she said.
Tuncel’s attorney also pointed to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which stated that a speech needs to be considered as a whole and that a few words wouldn’t be sufficient to constitute a crime of insult.
Since Erdoğan assumed the presidential office in 2014, thousands of people have received prison sentences for insulting him — 2,046 in 2018 and 3,831 in 2019. Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) states that any person who insults the president of the republic faces a prison term of up to four years. This sentence can be increased by a sixth if it has national exposure and by a third if committed by the press or media. In total 9,554 people have been sentenced to prison for insulting the president.
According to human rights lawyer Kerem Altıparmak, more than 100,000 Turkish citizens have been investigated for insulting President Erdoğan and in excess of 30,000 court cases were opened. Altıparmak says Article 299 of the TCK on insulting the Turkish president runs against the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party, and should be annulled. The offense of insulting the head of state has been decriminalized in several European countries, and although it is still part of the penal code of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal, there have been no recent convictions.
Last year, Tuncel was sentenced to 15 years for disseminating terrorist propaganda and membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Tuncel had denied the charges. A regional appeals court later overturned the decision. Her case is being retried, and she remains in pre-trial detention.