Turkish rapper briefly detained for ‘insulting’ President Erdoğan

Turkish rapper Şehinşah, whose real name is Ufuk Yıkılmaz, announced on Twitter on Saturday that he had been detained at the airport in the western city of İzmir due to a complaint filed against him for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“I am once again in a detention center,” Yıkılmaz said. “I can’t follow them anymore, so many cases against me. Another case pops up while I am dealing with the previous one.”

Yıkılmaz tweeted on Sunday that he had been released and said he was fed up with being detained on such charges. “I will soon record a ‘protest’ song,” he added.

Turkish prosecutors investigated 128,872 people for insulting President Erdoğan between 2014 and 2019.

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 handed down sentences for insulting the president.

In a 2016 opinion the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s independent advisory body on constitutional matters, had noted with concern the large number of investigations, prosecutions or convictions reported by the press for insulting the president. It had recalled that the European Commission in its 2015 report on Turkey underlined that “there is a widened practice of court cases for alleged insult against the President being launched against journalists, writers, social media users and other members of the public, which may end in prison sentences, suspended sentences or punitive fines.” According to the same report, this intimidating climate has led to increased self-censorship.

According to the Venice Commission, the use of offensive, shocking or disturbing words especially within the context of a debate on matters of public interest are guaranteed by freedom of expression. Expressions that may be perceived in the abstract as denigrating, such as “thief” (in relation to a corruption probe) or “murderer” (in relation to demonstrators who lost their lives during the Gezi protests), “dictator” and the like must be evaluated in their public debate context.

Human rights lawyer Kerem Altıparmak argues that Article 299 of the TCK 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.

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