Turkey's Erdogan files $32k lawsuit against opposition leader who called him a 'dictator'

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan. © Kayhan Ozer / Presidential Palace Press Office
Attorneys for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan have filed a lawsuit against a major opposition leader for stating that Erdogan is a dictator, presidential sources and the opposition party told Reuters. The president is reportedly seeking $32,000 in damages.

Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu made the controversial comment on Saturday, just one day after Erdogan urged prosecutors to investigate academics who signed a declaration criticizing military action in the country's mainly Kurdish southeast. Twenty-seven of the signatories were briefly detained.

"Academics who express their opinions have been detained one by one on instructions given by a so-called dictator," he said during a speech to his party's 35th General Congress in Ankara, referring to those who have signed petitions opposing the military crackdown on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and urging an end to curfews.

"You may not agree with the content of the declaration. We also have issues with it, we also have our disagreements. But why limit freedom of speech?" Kilicdaroglu added.

Erdogan's lawyers are seeking 100,000 lira (US$32,000) in damages, according to Turkish media.

A petition presented to the public prosecutor’s office also asked for a civil lawsuit to be launched against the CHP, Turkey’s Anadolu agency reported. The biggest opposition party in Turkey, with 134 seats in the 550-member Turkish parliament, the CHP, has been led by Kilicdaroglu since May 2010.

In addition to the lawsuit, an attorney from the Ankara prosecutor's office has also launched an investigation into Kilicdaroglu's comments on charges of “openly insulting the president,” local media reported.

In Turkey, insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in jail. Although Kilicdaroglu has immunity from prosecution because he is a lawmaker, parliament could vote by a simple majority to remove that protection.

It's not the first time that Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu have clashed. In June 2015, Erdogan filed a 100,000 lira ($32,000) lawsuit against the CHP leader for “mental anguish” following a public spat over claims that there were golden toilet seats installed in the presidential palace.