Prior to the hearing scheduled for 9 November, ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to the Ankara 30th Criminal Court of First Instance in the case against Veli Saçılık, a sociologist, activist, and author, who faces prosecution for ‘insult’ under Article 125 of the Turkish Criminal Code based on his social media activity. In the expert opinion, we examine the compatibility of the charges brought against Saçılık with international and European standards on freedom of expression, finding that they violate his human rights.
In April 2022, prosecutors charged Saçılık with the crime of insult under Article 125 of the Turkish Criminal Code. The charges were brought for two tweets Saçılık posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) on 12 and 15 June 2020. Saçılık’s first tweet was in response to a news article about comments by Süleyman Soylu’s (the former Minister of Interior) that attacked the theatre play Devran, written by Selahattin Demirtaş (former co-head of HDP, a pro-Kurdish political party); the second tweet criticised the manner in which Devlet Bahçeli (head of MHP, the ‘Nationalist Movement Party’) commented on the same play.
In the expert opinion, ARTICLE 19 submits that Saçılık’s tweets fall within the limits of legitimate criticism of public figures, and that his criminal prosecution violates his right to freedom of expression. We also believe that Article 125/1 of the Turkish Criminal Code is incompatible with international and European human rights standards as it fails to satisfy the criteria of legality, necessity and proportionality, and should be repealed entirely. The provision’s vague formulation and its emphasis on protection of one’s feelings rather than reputation pose a significant risk of misuse against protected speech.
The expert opinion presents the following key considerations for the Ankara 30th Criminal Court of First Instance to consider in its deliberations of the case:
- International and European human rights law protects the reputation of others, but only against statements causing substantial harm. This protection does not extend to words and language that simply shock, offend, or disturb.
- By virtue of their role in political and public life, public officials and politicians must show a greater degree of tolerance towards criticism. The use of harsh language is permissible and should even be expected when matters of public controversy or interest are involved.
- Even if the restrictions in Article 125/1 did meet the requirements of legality and pursued a legitimate aim, criminal prosecution is never a proportionate response to insult. The protection of the reputation of others must be addressed through civil law, not criminal prosecution.
- The criminal sanctions for opinions expressed on X not only penalise the defendant but also have a broader chilling effect on freedom of expression in Turkey as it discourages other individuals from participating in a debate on issues of public interest.
ARTICLE 19 calls for the immediate dismissal of all charges against Saçılık and for the abolishment of Article 125/1 from the Turkish Criminal Code, which unjustly limits criticism of public officials and democratic engagement.