As polls open today in a national election to decide who will lead Turkey into the future, six people have been arrested by Turkish police for allegedly insulting current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Independent reports that the individuals were apprehended late Saturday evening, the day after they had posted videos to social media. The videos are said to show the persons in question shouting expletives direct at and against Erdogan.
State broadcaster Anadolu Agency, the broadcasters responsible for informing the public that these individuals had been arrested in the first place, said that the perpetrators were later charged with “insulting state elders” and that police were actively searching for potential collaborators and other suspects.
Insulting the president is a crime that carries a potential sentence of up to four years imprisonment in Turkey. Erdogan has not been sparse in his usage and application of said law; he has filed nearly 2,000 lawsuits against those who have insulted him, adults and children alike. A one-time amnesty, granted as a goodwill offering amidst mounting political pressure and a failed military coup against his office, was offered up in 2016.
Since then, Erdogan has continued to file many more lawsuits over insults, real or perceived.
The election is said to be extremely close in the polling, with Erdogan and his Islamist-backed AK Party having swept to power nearly two decades ago. Erdogan has been a popular but controversial leader, calling for a snap election in order to deal with a flagging currency problem and military incursions from Kurdish rebels plaguing the country.
Turkey has been under a perpetual, legal state of emergency ever since the failed military coup took place in July 2016, seeking to depose Erdogan. The social crackdown under such a state of emergency has dictated the curtail of many personal freedoms and civil liberties and has allowed the government to bypass parliament via emergency decrees, giving Erdogan a direct path to power.
Erdogan pointed the finger at the man he found to be responsible for the failed coup, U.S. based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, and immediately ordered a widespread investigation of his followers after winning the political struggle of 2016. Since then, more than 160,000 people have been detained and nearly as many more, including soldiers, judges, and teachers have been fired from their posts according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner.
The vote is expected to be extremely close between Erdogan’s AK Party and a coalition of smaller parties all aimed squarely at ending the Erdogan era.
Muharrem Ince, the presidential candidate representing the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), spoke in front of a rally of hundreds of thousands of supporters in Istanbul on Saturday, promising reform.
“If Erdogan wins, your phones will continue to be listened to… Fear will continue to reign… If Ince wins, the courts will be independent,” said Ince. The CHP candidate went on to promise that, if elected, he would immediately lift the state of emergency and all laws pursuant to it within 48 hours of taking power.
Today’s election has also drawn a record turnout from expatriate Turks in some nations, including Canada, the CBC reports. The world holds its breath and awaits the final verdict, though many polls seem to indicate that there may, in fact, be a second round of voting in the event that there is no decisive victory made by today’s democratic action.