A total of 45,000 investigations were launched into individuals on allegations of insulting the president or government officials, with 9,773 of them standing trial in 2020, according to statistics published by the Turkish Justice Ministry.
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been making ample use of laws against insulting the head of state or government officials as a pretext to punish or intimidate critics and opponents since the introduction of the executive presidency in 2018.
Any person who criticizes Erdoğan or his government can be sentenced to up to four years under Article 299 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) or two years under Article 301 of the same law, penalizing insults against the president or the cabinet.
According to judicial statistics for 2020, 9,773 people, including 152 who were foreign nationals, were tried under these articles. Among them were 290 minors, including 84 aged between 12 and 15 and 206 aged between 15 and 18.
In these proceedings 1,519 were acquitted and 3,655 were sentenced to prison. In other cases sentences were suspended or the charges against them were dropped.
The criminal code articles have been the greatest obstacle to freedom of expression during AKP rule.
Even Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu faces up to four years in prison for referring to Erdoğan as a “so-called president.”