Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lodged a criminal complaint against Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders over a series of insulting tweets.
Wilders shared a cartoon picture of Erdogan wearing a bomb-resembling hat on his head with the caption “terrorist” on Saturday. On Monday, he posted an image of a sinking ship with a Turkish flag on it. “Bye bye @RTErdogan. Kick Turkey out of NATO,” he said under the photo.
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Erdogan’s lawyer Huseyin Aydin submitted the complaint to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s office for “insulting the president” – a crime in Turkey punishable by up to four years in prison.
“Suspect Wilders, in his content targeting our first [directly] elected [by public] president, used expressions insulting the honour and dignity of our president, and committed the crime publicly by targeting his personality, dignity and reputation,” state-run Anadolu news agency quoted the complaint as saying on Tuesday.
Wilders is one of Europe’s most prominent far-right politicians and has been a key figure in shaping the immigration debate in the Netherlands over the past decade, although he has never been in government.
“Fascism is not in our book, it’s in your book. Social justice is in our book,” Erdogan said on Sunday at a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in eastern Malatya province.
Wilders – whose political career has been based largely on his strident anti-Islam rhetoric – has frequently shocked the Dutch political establishment and offended Muslims.
He was acquitted in a 2011 hate speech trial for remarks likening Islam to Nazism and calling for a ban on the Quran. Last month he was acquitted by an appeals court of discrimination, although it upheld a conviction for intentionally insulting Moroccans as a group.
Erdogan has persistently sued people for alleged insults since he took office as president in 2014. Thousands have been convicted. More than 29,000 people were prosecuted on charges of insulting Erdogan last year, according to the Birgun newspaper.
Wilders, who leads the largest opposition party in the Dutch parliament, shrugged off the Turkish criminal complaint and described Erdogan as a “loser”. Wilders has lived under tight security for 16 years because of death threats following his anti-Islam rhetoric.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called Ankara’s move against Wilders unacceptable and said his government would raise the issue with Turkey.
“In the Netherlands, we consider freedom of expression as the highest good. And cartoons are part of that, including cartoons of politicians,” Rutte told reporters.
Forbidden in Islam
Erdogan’s criminal complaint comes as a widening rift is driving apart France and Muslim communities across the Arab and Muslim world over French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of Islam in early October.
The gruesome beheading of a French teacher – who showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on freedom of speech to teenage students – further heightened debate over Islam in France.
The prophet’s visual depiction is forbidden in Islam, and the French government’s decision to project the images on buildings further outraged the Muslim world. Erdogan responded by questioning the French president’s mental health.
Over the weekend, Muslims called for a boycott of French goods, while there have also been angry street protests across the Muslim world.
Devlet Bahceli, leader of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party and an ally of Erdogan, said on Tuesday that Wilders had “dark ties with “terrorist” organisations.
“The degenerate leader of the Freedom Party has stooped so low as to call our president a terrorist. He has shown who truly is the terrorist, the fascist and the barbarian,” Bahceli told parliament.
Turkey’s pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah published a front-page editorial on Monday calling Wilders and Macron “the two faces of hatred, racism in Europe”.
Erdogan’s response to Macron was deemed “unacceptable” by some European leaders, including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, as well as Rutte.