Turkish actor handed 21-month jail term for insulting Erdogan

A Turkish theater actor and director critical of the Turkish government was sentenced to 21 months in prison on Wednesday on the charge of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, human rights portal Susma reported.

The portal, Platform Opposite to Censor and Self-Censor (Susma – “Don’t be silent”), reported that Ersin Umut Guler, the actor of Yolcu Theater, was not found guilty on a second charge of insulting public officials.

The indictment accepted by the court was based on charges related to insults posted by Guler’s in social media messages between 2014 and 2017.

The artist is expected to lodge appeals before a higher court, the Turkish Court of Appeals (Istinaf).

On July 8, another Istanbul court had convicted the actor of using his social media channels to disseminate propaganda for a terrorist organization, deferring the announcement of the verdict. At the time, he had been sentenced to 1 year and three months in jail again over his social media posts shared in 2016.

According to the controversial Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), “insulting the president” is a crime in Turkey. The crime may result in a four- year prison sentence, and even longer if committed through mass media.

The article has been in the TCK since 1926, however, it was rarely used in practice before Erdogan’s term in office. Since Erdogan assumed the presidency in 2014, the number of people who have been prosecuted and convicted according to Article 299 has rapidly risen.

The number of people prosecuted in 2014 was 132. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, the number of people prosecuted was 1,953, 4,187 and 6,033 respectively.

The number of actual convictions was 40 in 2014, 238 in 2015, 884 in 2016 and 2,099 in 2017.

The “insult cases” are initiated by individuals or lawyers, not by the president, but are often backed by the presidency’s legal team.

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