Turkey's presidential 'insult law' a way to silence critics
Critics believe the law is used to stifle opposing views before the presidential elections.
According to critics, Turkey's increasingly prevalent offense of "insulting the President" is becoming a method to suffocate critical voices ahead of Presidential elections.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the 52-year-old Seef Kabas has already spent more time in prison than any other journalist for this purported offense. She is to be tried in March and faces 12 years and 10 months.
During a televised interview on January 14, Kabas recalled an old saying stating that a crowned head gets smarter, "but we see it is not true." After repeating the statement on her Twitter account, she was charged, her bail request was rejected and the Turkish President filed a claim for nearly $18,300 in damages.
Erol Onderoglu, RSF's representative in Turkey, said, "This anti-democratic 'lese-majeste' law has become a tool of repression which illustrates the authoritarian policy of the government."
Onderoglu says the offense enables the government to "silence critics and weaken the media." According to RSF's world press freedom ranking, Turkey is placed 153rd.
Erdogan: Nothing to do with freedom of expression
Erdogan insisted that the "respect and protection" of the presidential office has "nothing to do with freedom of expression."
Following the Kabas remark, eight other arrest warrants were issued, including one for Olympic swimmer Derya Buyukuncu, for tweets mocking the President's Covid illness when he and his wife tested positive.
According to official judiciary figures, more than 31,000 persons were indicted in 2020 for suspected presidential disrespect, up from 36,000 in 2019. In 2010, the number was 4.
Sumbul Kaya, a researcher at the Paris Military School's Institute for Strategic Research, said the offense makes it "possible to attack ordinary citizens."
With Erdogan's popularity wavering amid an economic crisis, Kaya has detected a "reduction of power in the judiciary."
The offense of "insulting civil servants" has always existed, but the offense of "insulting the president" was instituted in 2005 by Erdogan's AKP party, which has been in power since 2002.
Insulting the person, not the office
"With the example of the swimmer, President Erdogan claimed the office was under attack but it was about him as an individual," she said.
Ahmet Insel, an economist and political scientist, agrees that the offense aims to halt freedom of expression about the person of the President.
"Many journalists and lawyers are imprisoned under the charge of propaganda of a terrorist organization but when it cannot be applied, as in the case of Sedef Kabas, Erdogan's lawyers file a complaint under section 299."
Insel feels the move is a direct result of Erdogan's authoritarian notion of the position of President, who took over as head of state, head of government, and leader of the ruling party in 2018.
Insel described that direct orders came from the presidential palace to dismiss more than 4000 judges and prosecutors and replace them with younger lawyers close to the AKP.
Almost 30 worldwide organizations supporting journalists have called for Kabas' immediate release.