Boy jailed for ‘insulting’ Turkish president freed

Demonstrators hold a banner reading 'A friend was taken prisoner for calling a thief a thief' after a student known only by his initials was jailed. Picture: AFP
Demonstrators hold a banner reading 'A friend was taken prisoner for calling a thief a thief' after a student known only by his initials was jailed. Picture: AFP
Have your say

A HIGH school student jailed for allegedly insulting Turkey’s president was released from custody yesterday after his arrest caused uproar in the country.

The 16-year-old boy was arrested on Wednesday, a day after he took part in a small left-wing student rally commemorating the death of a pro-secular army officer slain by Islamists 84 years ago.

According to court papers, the boy, who can only be identified by his initials MEA because of Turkish laws that protect the identity of minors, made a speech during the rally in which he said the students did not regard Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the president, but as the “thieving owner of the illegal palace”.

His words referred to a vast government corruption scandal that has implicated members of president Erdogan’s family, as well as a controversial 1,150-room palace in the capital, Ankara, which Mr Erdogan inaugurated in October.

The arrest of the boy at Meram Technical and Vocational high school in Konya, central Turkey, sparked an outcry, with opposition parties denouncing it as the latest example of the government’s descent toward authoritarianism and crackdown on dissent. Dozens of lawyers volunteered to defend the teenager and petitioned for his release.

The boy walked through the gates of a detention centre in Konya after a court there agreed to free him from police custody yesterday. It is a crime in Turkey to insult the president and the boy could face up to four years in prison if he is eventually charged and convicted.

The student denied during questioning that his words were intended as an insult to Mr Erdogan, according to the court papers.

He embraced his mother as he emerged from custody. Dozens of his supporters sang and beat a drum in celebration of his release.

“We are not terrorists,” the boy said after his release. “When we took this path, we made a promise not to turn back. We shall not yield to the fascist, unprogressive pressure.”

“We said we were the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal – that’s why we were thrown in,” he said, his voice breaking, referring to Turkey’s late leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the modern, secular Turkish republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. He added: “We were intimidated.”

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu defended the boy’s detention on Christmas Day, saying: “The presidential office needs to be shown respect, no matter who he is.”

Mr Davutoglu added that his government would “protect the young”.

Mr Erdogan has not commented on the boy’s detention.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, welcomed the boy’s release, saying it was “wrong for a child to be kept in custody even for a minute”.

“A child’s place is not prison,” the teenager’s mother, Nazmiye Gok, told reporters and supporters who gathered outside the detention centre. “They need to be in school, sitting at their desks.”

She added: “I am not ashamed of my child. I am proud of him.”

Mr Erdogan, who was elected president in August after serving as prime minister for 11 years, has faced several corruption allegations in recent years.

He insists they are baseless and part of a “dark plot” to oust him from power by influential cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in the US.

Earlier this month, police arrested more than 20 journalists working for media outlets thought to be sympathetic to the Gulen movement.