Turkey frees school student arrested for “insulting” Erdogan

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Published Friday, December 26, 2014

A Turkish court on Friday ordered the release of a 16-year-old high school student arrested for "insulting" President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following accusations his detention was the latest sign of the country veering to authoritarianism.

The boy, Mehmet Emin Altunses, was released following a complaint by his lawyer over his arrest in the central city of Konya, the Dogan news agency reported.

He was met by his parents as he left the main courthouse building in the city, the CNN-Turk channel reported.

"There is no question of taking a step back from our path, we will continue along this road," he said as he was released.

Altunses had delivered a speech on Wednesday in Konya, a bastion of the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), where he reportedly accused Erdogan and the ruling party of corruption.

During questioning, the boy, who was arrested by police at his school, denied links with any political party but confirmed he has accused Erdogan of being the "chief of theft, bribery and corruption."

Despite his release, he will still face trial at a date yet to be specified, and if convicted, he risks up to four years in prison.

Altunses’ mother expressed shock over the arrest, saying he had been detained "as if he was an armed terrorist."

"He is only a boy, his place is in school and not the prison," Nazmiye Gok told the Hurriyet daily.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of Turkey's main opposition party Republican People's Party (CHP), welcomed the boy's release. "It is not right for a 16-year-old to stay in jail even for a minute. It is a good thing that a mistake is rectified, although belatedly," he said.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had supported the court's original decision to arrest the boy, saying: "Everyone must respect the office of president whoever he is."

The boy's lawyer, Baris Ispir, had submitted a petition for his release to the court, together with around 100 colleagues who came from Istanbul in a show of support.

His legal team had also pointed out that accusations against Erdogan and his inner circle have been circulating for months on social media without any action being taken.

Sezgin Tanrikulu, vice president of CHP, wrote on Twitter that the release would do nothing to change "the miserable situation in which our democracy finds itself."

The boy’s arrest came amid growing concerns about freedom of speech in Turkey under Erdogan following raids earlier this month on opposition media linked to the president's top foe, exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan accuses US-based Gulen of establishing a "parallel structure" within the state through his supporters in the judiciary, police and other state institutions, as well as wielding influence through the media.

However, the cleric denies the accusation of seeking to overthrow Erdogan's government.

Earlier this month, 30 police, journalists and scriptwriters were arrested in the latest of a string of raids that have provoked a major rift with the European Union, which Turkey hopes one day to join.

On December 16, 35 supporters of Turkish football team Besiktas went on trial in a hugely controversial case on charges of seeking to overthrow the authorities led by Erdogan, who was then prime minister, in 2013 protests.

The following day, Erdogan stepped up his rhetoric in a bitter row with the EU over arrests of opposition media, saying the bloc has no right to give lessons in democracy and should itself "look in the mirror."

"They say they will give a democracy lesson to Turkey. Take the trouble to come here, so that Turkey can give you a lesson in democracy," he said in a speech in the Anatolian city of Konya.

Opponents accuse the Turkish president of behaving like a modern-day sultan as his Islamist ideology and intolerance of dissent taking Turkey far from Ataturk's secular ideals. They also accuse the Islamic-rooted government of seeking to impose strict Islamic values on the private lives of Turks as well as limiting the civil liberties of women.

Erdogan on Monday described efforts to promote birth control as "treason," saying contraception risked causing a whole generation to dry up.

Speaking at a summit in Istanbul on justice for women late November, he declared that women are not equal to men and launched a bitter attack against feminists in Turkey, claiming they reject the concept of motherhood.

"Our religion (Islam) has defined a position for women (in society): motherhood," Erdogan told an audience of Turkish women including his own daughter, Sumeyye. "Some people can understand this, while others can't. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don't not accept the concept of motherhood."

Moreover, Erdogan early December said he plans to make lessons in Ottoman Turkish mandatory in high schools, prompting one opposition politician to declare that an army could not force his daughter to learn the language.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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