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Turkey's Erdogan files complaints against opposition MPs over 'insulting the President'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkiye on 21 January 2022 [Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, Turkiye on 21 January 2022 [Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency]

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has filed criminal complaints against members of parliament from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) for allegedly "insulting the President", reviving concerns around freedom of speech in the country.

The complaints were filed by Erdogan's lawyer Huseyin Aydin, this week against Engin Özkoç, the CHP's Parliamentary Group Deputy Chair and the MP of Sakarya, and Aykut Erdoğdu, the party's MP for Istanbul.

The offending comments were made during a program on Turkey's TELE1 TV on 14 January, in which Erdogan was reportedly talked about in an insulting manner. In the petition for the charges, Aydin stated that the MPs' comments "were of [an] insulting nature against personality rights and reached the level of slander and insult."

It comes days after the television journalist, Sedef KabaÅŸ, in the same program, said that "there is a famous saying, 'A crowned head will get wiser.' But we see that this isn't the reality. There is also a saying that is the exact opposite: 'When cattle go into a palace, they don't become the king; the palace becomes a barn'".

A week later, Kabas repeated that comment on her Twitter and Instagram accounts as a "Circassian proverb," replacing the word "cattle" with "ox". Although she did not refer to Erdogan by name in either of those instances, she seemingly indicated that she was talking about the President in her comments.

On Saturday, she was then arrested and detained during a police raid, and a Turkish court then sentenced her to imprisonment on the charges of insulting the President in office.

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The arrest of the journalist and the filing of complaints against the CHP MPs have further raised concern amongst human rights activists about the deterioration of freedom of expression and overall press freedom in Turkey.

Erdogan's lawyer addressed those criticisms, countering them by insisting that the comments about the President "exceeded the limits of freedom of expression."

Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÃœK) has also decided to fine the TELE1 channel for criticism of Erdogan and for "inciting the people into animosity and hatred".

Additionally, the show that Kabas was attending – 'Demokrasi Arenası' (Arena of Democracy) – has been suspended for its next five episodes and the show's host, Uğur Dündar, is banned from hosting any other program on any channel for a month. The fines imposed on TELE1 consist of 5 per cent and 3 per cent of its ad revenue.

The complaints are the latest out of tens of thousands of others previously filed in Turkey for insulting the President throughout the years of Erdogan's premiership and then presidency.

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