Turkish authorities launch investigation into social media users who posted video mocking Erdoğan

Turkish President and leader of Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks during his ruling AKP's group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (GNAT), in Ankara, on May 26, 2021. Adem ALTAN / AFP

Turkish authorities have launched an investigation into TikTok users who shared a video mocking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish media reported.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into a group of TikTok users who shared a video showing Erdoğan magically appearing behind them as they count their money. The social media users are accused of insulting the president.

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.

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 the president or his government as an insult.

In hundreds such videos that each garnered thousands of views on TikTok, Erdoğan is seen appearing behind people who are counting their money and tells them to “Get the gold [and] foreign currency savings [kept] under your pillows out,” according to Turkish media reports. The users are then seen panicking and squirreling the money away.

The videos make fun of the fact that the president has been urging Turkish citizens and companies to convert their foreign currency savings to Turkish lira for the past few years as Ankara seeks to boost demand for the local currency.

The lira, which has lost more than half its value against the dollar in the past year alone and has been the worst performer in emerging markets for several years running due largely to economic and monetary policy concerns under Erdoğan’s government, traded at 18.25 to the US dollar on Wednesday, down more than 27 percent so far this year.

Over the past several years Turkey has been suffering from a deteriorating economy, with high inflation and unemployment as well as a poor human rights record. Erdoğan is criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.

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