Constitutional Court: Calling Minister ‘Court Jester’ Falls Within Freedom of Expression

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  • January 9, 2020
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A nominated MP from the main opposition party was given a sentence for insulting the minister, who was nominated in the same election district with him.

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the sentence given to Halk TV's former editor-in-chief Saban Sevinc for calling former Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP and Minister of Youth and Sports Akif Cagatay Kilic a "court jester" violated freedom of expression.

Sevinc's remarks came ahead of the general elections on November 1, 2015, when he became a nominated MP from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Having given a speech at an event as part of the CHP's election campaign in the northeastern Samsun province, Sevinc criticized Kilic, recalling that his grandfather was an MP from the CHP.

"The honorable grandfather of Minister Kilic is an elder of ours we love. I wish Mr. Minister took his cue from his grandfather and Serve Samsun, rather than being a jester to the palace," he had said. "The simplest example is, he is the Sports Minister but you see the situation of Samsunspor [football club], it can never get freed from unjust treatment."

After Sevinc's remarks, Kilic applied to Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, stating that the expression "being a jester to the palace" constituted a heavy insult and statements that he does not perform his duty are false charges. He requested an investigation to be started against Sevinc on the charge of insult.

After the complaint, public prosecution was launched against Sevinc.

Ankara 30th Penal Court of Peace convicted Sevinc for "openly insulting a public official" and sentenced him to pay a fine of 4,700 lira (~1,600 US dollars at the time). It deferred the announcement of the verdict.

'Election race shouldn't be overlooked'

After the court judgment, Sevinc applied to the Constitutional Court. Reviewing the application on November 28, 2019, the top court ruled that his freedom of expression was violated, considering that the mentioned words were said during an election campaign.

It underlined that the plaintiff and the applicant were nominated MPs from opposing parties in the same electoral district and that tensions caused by the election race should be considered when reviewing the applicant's words about the plaintiff.

"Publicly recognized persons and officials exercising public authority have to face more criticism because of their function. For this reason, it is clear that the plaintiff should show more tolerance to criticism against him than ordinary people," the cop court stressed.

It also noted that Sevinc's words had come as an answer to Kilic's remarks that "He should not mention my grandfather's name. He should gargle his dirty mouth before mentioning my grandfather's name."

"While it cannot be said that the expression 'jester to the palace,' which was used by the applicant, is not offensive and disturbing, it must be considered that it was used in a political debate that the plaintiff also contributed with his expressions. Thus, the court of first instance, admitting the plaintiff's expressions as an unjust provocation, reduced the sentence by a certain proportion.

"The Constitutional Court concluded that the applicant's freedom of expression had been violated, stating that the applicant's conviction for insulting was not in line with the requirements of the democratic social order."

Source: English Bianet