The growing number of court cases opened against individuals in Turkey on charges of “insulting” the president has prompted several professional chambers of jurists to hold a workshop on the issue, during which they asserted the issue was a “political” one which needed to be fought against through political methods.
The workshop, titled “The crime of insulting the president's contradiction with the constitution and proposals for a solution,” was hosted by the Ankara Bar Association.
Many academics hold the conviction that Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TSK) which covers “insulting the president” breaches both the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), according to Hakan Canduran, the president of the Ankara Bar association. Serious violations of human rights have been experienced because judicial bodies do not favor freedom of expression while making their decisions on issues related to this article, Canduran said.
“A person who defames the president of the [Turkish] Republic shall be imprisoned for a term of one to four years and the penalty to be imposed shall be increased by one-sixth if the offence is committed publicly and by one-third if it is committed by way of press and media,” states Article 299.
Since former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's election as president in August 2014, the number of prosecutions for insulting the head of state has risen and largely targeted artists and journalists, as well as schoolchildren.
Problems surrounding “the crime of insulting the president” are not merely legal, Murat Arslan, the president of the Judges and Prosecutors Union (YARSAV), said.
“We have to see this also as a political problem notwithstanding that it is a legal problem. That's why we need to raise a political struggle,” Arslan said.
Mustafa Karadağ, the president of the Union of Judges, also echoed Arslan's view.
“The matter is political. Politically, ‘the crime of insulting the president' should disappear,” Karadağ said. “They want to silence all of our voices by saying ‘insulting the president;' it's all about it” he said.