Turkish opposition politician could face 17 years in prison

Istanbul opposition chief faces up to 17 years in prison over 'insulting Erdogan', 'terrorist propaganda'
3 min read
28 May, 2019
Istanbul CHP head Canan Kaftancioglu faces up to 17 years in prison on charges of 'spreading terrorist propaganda' and 'insulting the Turkish state and president' over her old tweets.
Opposition activists say Kaftancioglu was responsible for the opposition's recent success [Anadolu]

A Turkish court has indicted the Istanbul head of the country's leading opposition party on charges that could see her face up to 17 years in prison, local media reported.

Istanbul provincial chair for the Republican People's Party (CHP) Dr Canan Kaftancioglu has been described as the architect of CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu's success in the March Istanbul mayoral elections.

Since cancelled by Turkey's highest electoral authority after a series of objections by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the election is set for a re-run on 23 June.

Istanbul prosecutors last week demanded Kaftancioglu's imprisonment over tweets she had written between 2012 and 2017.

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office on Monday accepted the indictment against Kaftancioglu, meaning the Istanbul CHP chief will face trial on charges of distributing propaganda for a terrorist organisation, insulting the Turkish president and government, and inciting hatred and enmity.

While "insulting the president" has been a criminal offence in Turkey since its foundation, the charge has become increasingly common since Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected president five years ago.

Human Rights Watch last year condemned the rising use of the charge, noting that its use has dramatically risen since 2014, when only 40 people were convicted for "insulting the president". In 2017, more than 2,000 people were found guilty of the charge.

More than 66,000 investigations have been launched since Erdogan assumed the presidency, resulting in 12,305 trials so far, Istanbul Bilgi University law professor Dr Yaman Akdeniz told leftist opposition newspaper BirGun in March.

Formed after an investigation launched last year, the accepted indictment seeks a jail term ranging from almost five years to 17 years.

One tweet in the indictment, posted after the assassination of three Kurdish women activists in Paris in six years ago, has received particular attention from supporters of the government.

"The history of the mankind starts with a woman. Humanity loses due to things done to women," Kaftancioglu tweeted, quoting Sakine Cansiz - one of the murdered women and a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist militia that is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey.

That tweet, by publishing the words of a PKK founder, constituted spreading "terrorist propaganda", government supporters said.

In her testimony made last week, Kaftancioglu admitted to writing all but one of the tweets in the indictment, Cumhuriyet reported.

The tweet the Istanbul CHP head denied writing referenced commemorating the "Armenian genocide", which remains a particularly contentious phrase in Turkey.

In another tweet, Kaftancioglu accuses the state of being a "serial killer".

The tweet references the death of Berkin Elvan, a 14-year-old boy shot in the head with a tear gas canister by police during the 2013 Gezi protests. Elvan died after spending almost a year in a coma.

"It's not a state, it's a serial killer," Kaftancioglu tweeted. "Farewell, my Berkin."

The tweet is including in the indictment under the charge of insulting the state. It is a crime in Turkey to "insult" the Turkish nation and government institutions.

Opposition activists have accused the judiciary of lodging the case in order to sabotage the CHP's chances in the upcoming mayoral election re-run.

The first hearing of the case will be heard in court on 28 June, pro-government daily Sabah reported.