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Thousands prosecuted in Turkey under controversial article to muzzle dissent

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Prosecutors are taking action against thousands of people in Turkey under an article in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) that concerns inciting hatred and hostility among the people but is feared to be mostly used to silence dissent.

According to Article 216 of the TCK, whoever openly incites segments of the society to enmity or hatred towards another group on the basis of social class, race, religion or sectarian or regional differences in a manner that may present a clear and imminent danger to public safety shall be sentenced to imprisonment of from one to three years.

This article has recently been used to prosecute students who demonstrate against the appointment of a loyalist to the İstanbul-based Boğaziçi University by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Two students who were arrested over the weekend due to their social media posts in support of the protests have been accused of inciting hatred and hostility among the people under Article 26 of the TCK.

According to data from the Justice Ministry, there was a 14 percent increase in the number of people who were investigated in Turkey under Article 26 between 2009 and 2019. In 2009 Turkey saw the investigation of 731 people under the article, while the figure rose to 15,044, among whom were 73 minors, in 2019. In 2009 159 people were indicted under the article, rising to 2,222 in 2019.

Veysel Ok, a prominent lawyer who spoke to Deutsche Welle Turkish edition, said Article 26 is being used irrationally in Turkey. According to Ok, the article should be used against people in positions of power and not against protesting students.

“Students don’t wield any power, they don’t have weapons or masses they can incite. However, a politician, an interior minister or a president have the power of the state, the power of the media, weapons and the masses [they can appeal to]. So their statements [targeting a group] and their behavior are more likely to contain a concrete threat [against a group]. Article 216 of the TCK should first be used against them,” said Ok.

In the course of the weeks-long protests, Erdoğan and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu have frequently attacked protesting students as well as LGBT people, referring to them as terrorist and perverts.

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