Turkish lawyer prosecuted for insulting Turkish president on social media

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a statement after chairing the cabinet meeting in Ankara, on December 14, 2020. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Turkish authorities have pressed charges against lawyer Efkan Bolaç for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on social media, the Bianet news website reported.

Bolaç shared two cartoons drawn by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff on his Instagram account in May 2014. One of the cartoons shows Berkin Elvan, a 16-year-old boy who died after being struck on the head with a gas canister fired by a police officer during the anti-government Gezi Park protest, holding Erdoğan and a police officer by their collars.

The other cartoon depicts coal miners kicking Erdoğan, in a reference to the 2014 mining disaster that claimed the lives of 301 men in Turkey’s western Soma province. Some victims’ families had protested Erdoğan, whose policies they believed were responsible for the tragedy.

Erdoğan’s then-advisor Yusuf Yerkel had kicked one of the protestors, sparking public outrage.

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.

Bolaç said he shared the cartoons in May 2014 when Erdoğan was prime minister and not yet president; therefore, he could not be considered to have insulted the president. The caricatures had also been shared by many mainstream news outlets such as the Hürriyet daily.

Bolaç’s first hearing will take place on September 6.

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.

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