Erdogan cleared for insulting peace petitioning academics, others not so lucky
In the aftermath of ISIL’s July 2015 suicide bombing in Suruç, which targeted the Kurdish minority and killed 33 people, Turkey, particularly the southeast, has been the scene of a low-grade civil war between the government and the PKK. In the course of this ongoing Kurdish insurgency, Turkish security forces have employed many harsh measures including besieging and curfewing Kurdish cities in the southeast.
Condemning these measures in January 2016 Turkish and foreign academics, some 1,128 individuals, issued a signed peace petition, which declared:1
“We demand the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand the state to lift the curfew, punish those who are responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage.
We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met.”
As can be imagined Turkish President Erdoğan was not too pleased with such a declaration against his ‘anti-terrorism’ tactics. He retorted as follow:2
“This herd [the academics] attacks our state that defends its citizens and terrains against terror organization’s acts. Yes, rights and freedom of millions of our citizens residing in the region have been violated. However, it is the terror organization itself that violates, not the state.
They even invited foreigners to our country to follow the developments. This is called a colonial mentality. Turkey has faced the treason of this mentality 100 years ago. At the time, a mass calling themselves intellectuals was in belief that Turkey could only be recovered by the help of foreigners.”
He also said, “Our nation should see who is who. Being a professor does not make someone an intellectual. These are the darkest of people. They are cruel people, because those who ally with cruelty are themselves cruel.”3
In addition to being rebuked by Erdoğan, some of the academics involved in the petition have faced even more serious repercussions. For unspecified reasons, eight of the academics were detained for questioning and over 130 are facing charges, while at least 30 have lost their jobs and 27 have been suspended by their universities.[3,4]
One of the signatories has attempted to utilize the Turkish legal system against Erdoğan to stand up for the rights of Turkish academics. In March Dr. Baskın Oran, a political scientist from Ankara University, filed a defamation lawsuit against Erdoğan for 10,000 Turkish Liras of damages.5 Dr. Oran’s motivation for the lawsuit was:
“The expressions Erdoğan has used in four different speeches he has held which have been broadcasted on TV are full of defamation and insult as clearly seen in on the sentences I have quoted in my bill of claims: ‘Despicable’, ‘tyrant’, ‘dark as pitch’, ‘ignorant’, ‘disgusting’, ‘traitor’, ‘lumpen’, ‘terrorist organization pawn’, ‘immoral’, ‘tainted souls’.
I can’t take such gross insults violating my personal rights, neither as an individual, nor as scholar. That’s why I have brought the suit.”
Not surprisingly, the Ankara 3rd Civil Court of First Instance has dismissed the Oran’s case against Erdoğan, claiming that the latter’s criticisms were within the bounds of freedom of expression!6
I find this ruling to be particularly ironic, even outrageous for the simple fact that Erdoğan has sued thousands of people for the crime of insulting him.7 Now it is true that under Article 299 of the Turkish penal code that “A person who defames the president of the [Turkish] Republic shall be imprisoned for a term of one to four years and the penalty to be imposed shall be increased by one-sixth if the offense is committed publicly and by one-third if it is committed by way of press and media.”8 However, I find it odd that Erdoğan has the freedom of speech to call professors the “darkest of people” and “cruel” among other things, while regular Turks cannot even criticize him, in many cases rather innocuously and jokingly on social media, without fear of being fined or imprisoned.
One could argue that Erdoğan is not so hypocritical after all, as following the July 15 attempted coup he magnanimously withdrew over 3,000 lawsuits his lawyer filed against people for disrespecting and insulting him.9 It should be realized that his great display of clemency by Erdoğan was likely a ploy to propitiate his political opponents following the failed coup, in an attempt to minimize his opposition while he enacted numerous contentious post-coup measures and reforms.
Furthermore, his clemency was not absolute, as the lawsuit against HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş, who claimed Erdoğan “wants to be the caliphate of Islam. But thieves cannot be caliphs,” was not dismissed.10 It should be noted that Demirtaş is currently detained and faces up to 142 years in prison for charges of “managing a terrorist organization … making terrorist propaganda … inciting people to violence and hatred … praising crime and the criminal.”11 He has been recently sentenced to 5 months in prison for “the Republic of Turkey, the Turkish nation, the Turkish state and state institutions.”12 As Turkish Minute reports “It was not immediately clear on which occasion Demirtaş committed the insult crime.”13
Demirtaş is not the only who has been targeted for insulting Erdoğan following the latter’s withdrawal of nearly all such cases. Yol TV has been shut down for allegedly insulting the president.14 CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has once again been charged by Erdoğan for his party releasing a declaration critical on the arrests of Cumhuriyet daily journalists and HDP deputies.15 In December journalist Hüsnü Mahalli has been detained for insulting state officials on twitter.16 A few weeks ago Suay Karaman an academic at Gazi University was sentenced to 11 months and 20 days in prison for insulting Erdoğan during a panel discussion he participated in.17 Poet Yılmaz Odabaşı was fortunate to receive a suspended sentence for insulting the president.18
These are just some of the more recent examples of Turkish citizens, many of which are notable individuals, being charged for insulting Erdoğan or other state officials, but there are many other examples as well.19 Since Turkey’s Constitutional Court has struck down an attempt to abolish Article 299, one should continue to expect litigation and incarceration for anyone with the temerity to insult the Turkish president.20
While many will argue that Turkey lacks freedom of expression, in a sense they are wrong. There is freedom of expression in Turkey, but only for certain people, such as Erdoğan, his minions and those who support him, while for basically everyone else, especially those opposed to or critical of Erdoğan, there is not. This is an important aspect of tyrannical government, were the legal code may contain judicious laws and the constitution may enumerate liberties, but the problem is that such are laws are not equally enforced. Freedoms are protected for some but not for others.
I expect that following the upcoming April 16 referendum, which will decide whether Erdoğan’s desired ‘presidential’ system is adopted, that this tyrannical state of affairs in Turkey will only worsen.
 See my post Erdogan says he will forgive those who have insulted him
 http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/journalist-husnu-mahalli-detained-for-insulting-state-officials.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107274&NewsCatID=509 , http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/journalist-husnu-mahalli-referred-to-court-for-arrest.aspx?pageID=238&nID=107316&NewsCatID=341
 https://www.turkishminute.com/2016/10/07/communist-party-member-arrested-insulting-turkish-president-erdogan/ , https://www.turkishminute.com/2016/12/04/tekirdag-man-arrested-insulting-erdogan-social-media/ , https://www.turkishminute.com/2017/01/02/man-arrested-refusing-serve-tea-erdogan-released/ , https://www.turkishminute.com/2017/01/07/canadian-turkish-national-custody-turkey-insulting-erdogan/ , https://www.turkishminute.com/2017/01/07/security-guard-arrested-insulting-erdogan-social-media/ , https://www.turkishminute.com/2017/01/17/pro-mhp-figure-detained-charges-insulting-erdogan/ , https://www.turkishminute.com/2017/02/03/yet-another-social-media-user-arrested-insulting-erdogan-2/ , https://www.turkishminute.com/2017/02/06/three-social-media-users-arrested-insulting-erdogan/