Mahmoud al-Sayeh, a doctor in the city of al-Bab, Syria, was arrested by the Turkey-backed Hamza Divison for ‘insulting’ Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, documents published by the Syrian Civil War Map show.
He was sentenced to six months in jail and a fine of 5,000 Turkish lira. The document claimed that even this sentence would not compensate for insulting “the leader of the great and Islamic Turkish nation.”
In Turkey, thousands of people have been arrested for “insulting the Presidential office”, a crime that can lead to several years in jail. Many cases were sparked by shares of social media posts. Some took song lyrics and even memes as evidence of insults worthy of prosecution. In 2016 alone, nearly 5,000 criminal cases were opened related to this charge, leading to 1,080 convictions.
The spread of this pattern to areas of Syria controlled by Islamist rebels shows further evidence of the degree to which Turkey has consolidated power in these regions. Turkey has already overseen industrial development in rebel-held areas. The Turkish language is used on public signage, and electricity and phone lines have been extended from Turkey into al-Bab and Jarablus. The arrest of a Syrian citizen for insulting Erdogan proves that the most arbitrary aspects of the Turkish justice system have followed these development efforts.