Court says Erdoğan should show more tolerance for harsh political criticism

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An Ankara court has said in its reasoned decision for rejecting a lawsuit launched by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan against the main opposition leader on allegations of insult that the president “should show a higher level of tolerance for statements of harsh political criticism against him,” Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Wednesday.

The Ankara 12th Civil Court of First Instance on March 16 rejected a lawsuit filed by the president against the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu seeking TL 500,000 ($30,638) in damages on allegations of “insulting the president.”

According to DW, Erdoğan’s lawyers said in the complaint that Kılıçdaroğlu’s statements during his party’s group meeting on Dec. 1, 2020, which accused Erdoğan of “conspiring against the army,” “kneeling in front of loan sharks” and “taking orders from Qataris,” violated the president’s personal rights.

Ruling that Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks were within the context of freedom of expression, the court also emphasized that it was “natural” for the opposition to harshly criticize Erdoğan since he held the top state office.

“This freedom [of expression] applies not only to statements of publicly accepted, non-dangerous, general criticism, but also to those that are hurtful, shocking, staggering and therefore, more attention-attracting. … In this case, it is considered that the complainant, Mr. President, is in a position to show a higher level of tolerance towards statements containing harsh political criticism against him than those who are not in the same situation,” the court said.

Thousands of people in Turkey are under investigation, and most of them are under the threat of imprisonment over alleged insults of President Erdoğan.

Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey, according to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Whoever insults the president can face up to four years in prison, a sentence that can be increased if the crime was committed through the mass media.

The insult cases generally stem from social media posts shared by Erdoğan opponents. The Turkish police and judiciary perceive even the most minor criticism of the president or his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government as an insult.

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