Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, leaves the Kirmahalle mosque during a visit to the Muslim community in Komotini, Greece. (Photographer: Konstantinos Tsakalidis/Bloomberg)

Economist Snatched at Night, Questioned for ‘Insulting’ Erdogan

(Bloomberg) -- Istanbul police briefly detained Mustafa Sonmez, an economist known for opposing the government’s policies, for allegedly insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media.

Sonmez was taken from his home early on Sunday to a police station in Istanbul, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The economist, known for his critiques of Erdogan’s ruling AK Party who also works as a columnist and television commentator, was released after being questioned largely over his tweets following local elections two weeks ago, according to his lawyer, Husniye Aydin.

“The police knocked on my door at about 3:50 a.m.,” Sonmez said by phone on Monday. “They took my deposition at the police headquarters and then put me under custody. They had a file of about 20 of my recent tweets. I told them what I did constituted criticism, not insult.”

Economist Snatched at Night, Questioned for ‘Insulting’ Erdogan

The freedom to publicly criticize Erdogan and his government was severely curtailed in Turkey after June 2013, when a small sit-in against the redevelopment of the Gezi Park in central Istanbul morphed into weeks of nationwide protests against the government.

Restrictions against free speech grew more extensive after the attempted coup in July 2016. Since then, they’ve expanded into a crackdown on journalists, academics, artists and the military opposed to the concentration of vast executive powers in the presidency, a shift approved in a 2017 referendum.

Trouble Ahead?

Although Sonmez was released after giving his deposition, “this doesn’t mean there will not be a court case against him,” Aydin said in an interview.

In his latest posts on Twitter, Sonmez criticized authorities for not recognizing Ekrem Imamoglu as the winner of Istanbul’s mayoral race after a March 31 election. The AKP, which has long ruled over Turkey’s commercial hub, is demanding recounts and a new vote.

“They could’ve invited me to testify, and I’d have obeyed,” Sonmez said. “Sending police to my door is disgraceful. They’re shooting themselves in the foot.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.