Turkish opposition deputy moves to decriminalise insulting president

Özgür Özel, deputy parliamentary group chairman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), is preparing to submit a proposal to remove the crime of ‘insulting the president’ from Turkish law, Anka News Agency reported on Sunday.

During the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, 160,169 people have been investigated for insulting the president and 12,881 have been convicted of the crime. “This shows a clear abuse of the Turkish Penal Code Article 299,” Özel said.

Only 233 people were convicted of the same crime during the term of Erdoğan’s predecessor Abdullah Gül, and the number was even lower for previous presidents, Özel said. Ahmet Necdet Sezer’s and Süleyman Demirel’s presidencies saw 82 and 71 convictions respectively.

“Official data shows that in Erdoğan’s term, this article has been turned into an apparatus for revenge,” the deputy said.

The article was drafted with different parameters in mind, he added. Before the 2017 referendum to amend the constitution, Turkey’s political system only bestowed limited powers to the president and disallowed any affiliation with political parties.

Currently, Erdoğan is both president of the country and head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Özel continued:

“After the constitutional amendment that attacked the regime, the president has donned an additional armour of protection via Article 299, which was created for impartial presidents before him. (Erdoğan) goes to court for the smallest criticisms and imposes severe restrictions on our citizens’ freedom of expression.”

Erdoğan also uses the article to target his political rivals, the deputy added.

There are at least 141 instances of Erdoğan pressing charges against CHP deputies, according to Özel. “There is no satisfactory explanation as to why the chairman of a political party needs this armour that other chairpersons do not have.”

“It is clear that the president who is also the chairman of a political party should internalise freedom of thought and expression, vital pillars of democracy in the 21st century, and to learn to tolerate diverse voices and opinions,” Özel said.

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