HSBC Turkey chief executive Selim Kervanci was on April 11 acquitted of a charge of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Kervanci was charged after a private citizen informed the authorities that the bank boss retweeted a video on social media at the time of the nationwide ‘Gezi’ anti-government protests in 2013. The verdict comes at a time when strongman Erdogan’s ‘invincibility’ has been called into question by the Ankara and Istanbul defeats his AKP party suffered in the end of March local elections, despite fierce campaigning by the president.
The CEO was reported by Reuters as telling the court: “I work in an international bank. An unjust decision would harm my career and would harm my country’s prestige.”
He further told the court that he did not intend to insult anyone by retweeting the video and had not viewed the video before sharing it.
“When I did this there was no way I could have intended any insult,” he was also cited as stating to the court before the verdict was announced.
The video in question was an excerpt of the 2004 German feature film “Downfall”. It depicts Adolf Hitler’s last days and the collapse of Nazi Germany.
Sixteen face trial
Sixteen civil society figures, writers and actors are facing trial over their alleged roles in the Gezi protests, accused of seeking to overthrow Erdogan’s government in 2013.
In Turkey, insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. Thousands of such cases have been opened since Erdogan became president in 2014.
Following the attempted coup d'etat against Erdogan and his government in mid-2016, Turkey introduced a state of emergency, which lasted until July 2018. During the emergency regime a harsh crackdown against anyone with any alleged association with the Gulenist network—said by the government to have orchestrated the coup attempt—led to the detention and/or firing from state jobs of tens of thousands of people. Such arrests are still taking place, though at a slower pace.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on April 10 released a report exploring how Turkey has arbitrarily jailed hundreds of lawyers and put them on trial in the aftermath of the botched coup attempt.
“The move is part of the Turkish authorities’ major assault on the right to a fair trial and on the role of lawyers in the administration of justice,” HRW said in a press release announcing the publication of the 56-page report, “Lawyers on Trial: Abusive Prosecutions and Erosion of Fair Trial Rights in Turkey”.
Turkey is seen as “Not Free” by the Freedom House watchdog.
For three straight years, it has been listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.