Claim: Turkey cracks down on insults against President Erdogan

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Claim: Turkey cracks down on insults against President Erdogan

2016-03-08 07:57 GMT
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Safak Timur writes in New York Times that Turkey cracks down on insults against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Safak Timur

The New York Times published an article on 3 March 2016 by Safak Timur about a number of criminal cases being processed in Turkey for insulting Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The article claims that the “number (of cases) quantifies a growing trend of cracking down on dissent” in the country.1

“The crush of insult crimes that have inundated Turkey’s justice system reflect the president’s authoritarian leadership style, critics say, and his determination to not let any insult, perceived or otherwise, go unanswered,” the article continues.

However, defamation laws and insult cases are not unique to Turkey as they are applied in many EU countries too. According to International Press Institute’s (IPI) report published last year in January, in  23 out of 28 EU member states, defamation is a criminal act and 20 of them retain imprisonment as a possible punishment.2

Regarding the insult law, in 12 EU member states, insulting the head of state is specifically established as a separate criminal offence (in Lithuania it is an administrative offence). This category includes lèse-majesté laws (laws punishing insults against the monarch) among the EU’s seven monarchies. Only two monarchies (Luxembourg and the UK) have abolished insulting the monarch as a separate criminal offence. In Sweden, offending the monarch may lead to six years in prison, and in the Netherlands five. Meanwhile, in Denmark, punishments for insults and defamation are doubled when the monarch is the offended party.

IPI’s research has highlighted a few cases in which laws protecting the head of state have been applied in recent years, including multiple convictions in Poland and Spain. In the Netherlands, an investigation by the newspaper NRC Handelsblad found that between 2000 and 2012 there were 19 criminal proceedings for lèse-majesté in the Netherlands. The paper reported that nearly half of these led to a criminal conviction, including five fines and one suspended prison sentence.

IPI’s report is striking in that it documents many journalist in 15 EU countries3 convicted of libel in the last five years. For example, eleven Italian journalists/editors were sentenced to imprisonment for libel in the last five years alone.4In Greece, a journalist convicted of libelling a local official was handed an eight month suspended prison sentence. In Lithuania, journalist Gintaras Visockas was convicted of defaming a former presidential candidate and ordered to pay a fine.

None of the countries above are addressed as authoritarian and cracking down on dissent due to implementation of insult laws, but Turkey is presented as authoritarian merely because it also applies the law.