Turkey: 1,845 cases opened for insulting President Erdogan
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — As many as 1,845 cases have been opened against people accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he came to office in 2014, a top official said, while a prominent journalist on Wednesday described his recent release from prison as a defeat for the president.
Erdogan has been accused of aggressively using a previously seldom-used law that bars insults to the president as a way to muffle dissent. Those who have gone on trial include celebrities, journalists and even schoolchildren.
Critics say Erdogan, who has been accused of increasing authoritarianism, even considers strong criticism as insults.
Responding to questions in parliament late Tuesday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said his ministry has allowed 1,845 cases on charges of insulting Erdogan to go ahead.
He defended the prosecutions, saying: "I am unable to read the insults leveled at our president. I start to blush."
Erdogan last year also filed a complaint against the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and the paper's Ankara representative Erdem Gul for their reports on alleged arms smuggling to Syria, which led to their arrests and subsequent charges of spying and aiding a terror organization. They go on trial March 25.
The two, however, were released from prison last week pending the outcome of the trial after Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that their rights had been violated. Erdogan severely criticized the court's ruling, saying he did not respect it and would not abide by it.
At a news conference in Istanbul, Dundar said the court's ruling amounted to a defeat for Erdogan who "is trying to turn it into a state crisis."
In May, Cumhuriyet published what it said were images of Turkish trucks carrying ammunition to Syrian militants. The images reportedly date back to January 2014, when local authorities searched Syria-bound trucks, touching off a standoff with Turkish intelligence officials. The paper said the images proved that Turkey was smuggling arms to rebels.
The government initially denied the trucks were carrying arms, maintaining that the cargo consisted of humanitarian aid. Some officials later suggested the trucks were carrying arms or ammunition to Turkmen groups in Syria.
This version has been corrected to reflect that the justice minister spoke on Tuesday, not Monday.