A 17-year-old high school student named A.E.S. in Istanbul's Üsküdar district gained public attention after a video of him insulting a photograph of Atatürk went viral on social media. The teenager was captured on his friends' cell phone camera making disrespectful gestures toward a photograph of Atatürk, which had been torn from a school book. The video quickly circulated on social media and was widely shared by user.
After a public outcry over the video, Istanbul police took swift action. A.E.S., the individual seen in the video making the offensive gestures, was apprehended and detained shortly thereafter. Following his statement at the police station and necessary procedures, A.E.S. was brought to the Anatolian Courthouse in Kartal. Subsequently, he appeared before the prosecutor's office and was referred to the Anatolian 4th Criminal Judgeship of Peace with a request for his arrest on charges of 'publicly humiliating a section of the public based on social class, religion, sect, gender, regional differences,' and 'publicly insulting the memory of Atatürk.' Upon the judge's issuance of an arrest warrant, the suspect was remanded to prison. This incident garnered significant attention, both on social media and in traditional media outlets.
It's important to note that A.E.S. is a 17-year-old teenager, legally considered a child. This is a developmental stage marked by rapid emotional, cognitive, and social growth, intensifying identity exploration, and frequent fluctuations in thoughts and feelings. Therefore, his arrest was deemed unjustifiable.
Moreover, A.E.S. has already drawn the ire of millions of people for his behavior, and his arrest could have a negative impact on his psychological and social development. Moreover, such an incident is likely to have negative effects on his education and career plans.
One of the critical yet controversial issues that this incident has once again raised is whether insulting the President should be regarded as an exercise of freedom of expression. It's widely known that President Erdoğan has been responsible for the convictions of numerous individuals on charges of 'insulting the President,' which constitutes a distinct offense under the Turkish Penal Code. While it is exceedingly rare for an ordinary citizen to receive a prison sentence for insulting another citizen, tens of thousands of individuals have faced legal prosecution for insulting the President. Some of them have even been sentenced to imprisonment for statements that could be argued as mere insults. As mentioned in previous bulletins, this situation not only curtails freedom of expression but also violates the principle of equality, indicating an effort to stifle dissenting voices.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of statements related to religious values and Atatürk as grounds for defamation prosecutions. Law enforcement agencies take action when expressions made by certain individuals, often in private and on social media, regarding values and figures widely embraced by society gain widespread attention in order to attract public notice.
It can be argued that detention or arrest decisions are primarily intended to quell reactions on social media and intimidate those who might engage in similar behavior. This is evident as many insulting expressions go unchecked if they do not gain widespread attention and fail to provoke significant public response.
While defamation is classified as a criminal offense in the Turkish Penal Code, it is crucial to view it within the broader context of freedom of expression. Doing so can contribute to a society that is more open, equitable, and understanding. It's important to note that assessing defamation within the realm of freedom of expression does not imply approval or tolerance of it. People have the right to criticize and respond to expressions they disagree with using their freedom of expression. However, resorting to the arrest of an individual due to their expression, thereby depriving them of their freedom, is seen as a disproportionate response.
In conclusion, A.E.S.'s insult may be unacceptable for many in society, but it is important to note that the decision to arrest may have irreversible negative effects on the life of a minor and, on the other hand, undermines freedom of expression.