A teenager arrested for allegedly insulting Turkey’s president was released today following widespread outcry. The boy’s arrest has fueled charges that the country is leaning toward authoritarianism.
As he left the courthouse in the central city of Konya, Mehmet Emin Altunses, 16, remained defiant.
“There is no question of taking a step back from our path, we will continue along this road,” Agence France Presse quoted Altunses as saying.
Altunses was arrested Wednesday at a student political rally after saying President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was guilty of bribery and theft. The high school student referred to Erdogan’s palatial 1,100-room palace as evidence of corruption. Criticism of the palace, which cost $615 million to build, has grown since its completion in October. [You can listen to a story by NPR’s Peter Kenyon on the White Palace here.]
Erdogan, who leads the conservative Justice and Development Party, is increasingly coming under fire for a clampdown on freedom of expression. Many in the predominantly Muslim, but officially secular, nation worry that Erdogan is creeping toward authoritarianism. The president has muzzled his critics and stoked conspiracy theories against him.
Yet Erdogan, who came to power as prime minister in 2002, remains one of Turkey’s most popular politicians. He has presided under rapid economic growth and championed the country’s Sunni Muslim identity that has been dormant in a nation that has been secular for decades.
On Sunday, while attending a couple’s wedding, the president told the gathering that efforts to encourage birth control wasn’t just wrong, it was “treason.”
“One or two (children) is not enough. To make our nation stronger, we need a more dynamic and younger population. We need this to take Turkey above the level of modern civilizations,” Erdogan said. “In this country, they (opponents) have been engaged in the treason of birth control for years and sought to dry up our generation.”