If there’s one thing Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear since he became Turkey’s president in 2014, it’s that he really would prefer his citizens don’t insult him. Journalists report routine intimidation; a doctor went to trial for posting a meme that compared him to the fictional character of Gollum; and the culture of fear surrounding insults toward the head of state was made obvious last month when a husband reported his own wife for changing the channel every time Erdogan came on TV.
Those are just a tiny fraction of the number of cases opened against people accused of insulting Erdogan. This week, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that at least 1,845 cases of alleged insults toward Erdogan have been opened in the past two years.
“I am unable to read the insults leveled at our president,” Bozdag said while defending the government. “I start to blush.”
Here are some of the insults Bozdag was apparently too embarrassed — or too scared — to repeat:
When Turkish philosophy professor Orsan K. Oymen published an op-ed saying Erdogan deserves to face trial for corruption and breaking the constitution, he probably knew it wouldn’t end well. The article ran in April 2015, and this January Oymen said he now faces four years in prison. He doesn’t deny writing the article; he just maintains it wasn’t an insult: Erdogan is “unable to distinguish strong criticism from an insult,” Oymen said.
In October of last year, Bilgin Ciftci, a doctor, was banned by the Public Health Institution of Turkey for comparing Erdogan to Gollum, the small, slimy, fanged creature from J. R. R. Tolkien’s beloved Lord of the Rings series. In December, his trial came to an impasse when the judge couldn’t decide if that was an insult or not. Some believe Gollum to be more tragic than evil. The judges are expected to make a decision this spring.
The beauty queen
In 2006, Merve Buyuksarac was crowned Miss Turkey. Less than a decade later, she faced two years of prison time for posting a poem on Instagram that Turkish officials claimed insulted Erdogan. She claims she did not intend to insult him and removed it once she realized she could have committed a crime. “I did not personally adapt the poem titled ‘The Poem of the Chief,’” she said last year. “I shared it because it was funny to me.”
Last October, a 14-year-old boy spent a night in prison facing charges for insulting the president in a Facebook post. The details of his case remain confidential, and he was later released due to his age. In late 2014, another student, 16-year-old Mehmet Emin Altunses, was arrested for calling Erdogan a thief during a student protest. In December 2015, another 16-year-old had to pay a nearly $2,000 fine for insulting Erdogan in a Twitter post.
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