About 1,850 cases have been opened in Turkey against those who stand accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the past two years, amid concerns over Ankara’s attempt to hush dissidents.
Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said during a parliamentary session that 1,845 cases have been registered in relation to insulting Erdogan since 2014 when the hawkish Turkish leader took office as president.
“I am unable to read the insults leveled at our president. I start to blush,” he said in defense of the prosecutions.
Critics have accused Erdogan of misusing a law, under which it is forbidden to insult the president, as a means to stifle dissent. The legislation that was hardly used before has sent a number of people to court, including celebrities, journalists and even schoolchildren.
Erdogan has been also facing growing popular dissatisfaction over what critics say is his growing autocratic behavior and regarding criticism as insult.
A human rights report released by the opposition Republican People’s Party, also known as the CHP, in December 2015 showed that a total of 98 people accused of insulting the Turkish president had been apprehended during a 10-month period.
The report added that a total of 5,795 people were taken into custody between January and October 7, 2015, over human rights issues.
Figures, which showed the growing number of websites blocked by a court order in recent years, were also included in the report, which said 15,562 websites were blocked in 2011, 22,536 in 2012, 35,000 in 2013, 40,773 in 2014 and 96,000 last year.
The Turkish government has come under harsh criticism over crackdown on opposition media critical of Erdogan or government policies.
Journalists’ release a defeat for Erdogan
In another development, Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, who has recently been released from jail along with his colleague Erdem Gul, hailed their freedom as a “clear defeat” for Erdogan.
The two journalists were under arrest since late November 2015 on charges of treason, espionage, and terrorist propaganda. They were freed on Friday after Turkey’s Constitutional Court challenged their detention as a violation of their rights.
Their arrest came after Cumhuriyet newspaper published a video showing that Turkey’s intelligence agency helped in the delivery of weapons to foreign-backed militants in Syria.
The Turkish government has denied allegations and said the vehicles had been carrying humanitarian aid to Syria.
Erdogan has said he does not respect the top court’s decision and that the case is not about press freedom, but about espionage.
Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Dundar said he would not obey an order to surrender his passport and would try to travel overseas.
Dundar and Gul will stand trial on March 25 on the charges, while prosecutors have demanded life terms.