Following a media uproar, a 16-year-old Turkish high school student was released by authorities two days after he was arrested for "insulting" Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. For critics, the initial move to detain the teenager was yet another sign of the authoritarian streak of Turkey's controversial leader.
The student, who has only been identified by the initials M.E.A., had spoken at a small left-wing rally in the central Anatolian city of Konya on Wednesday. The occasion marked the 84th anniversary of the death of a pro-secular army officer at the hands of Islamists. The high-schooler read out a statement hailing the principles of secularism as enshrined by the Turkish republic's founding father, Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, and accused Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party of corruption and graft.
He described Erdogan as "the thieving owner of the illegal palace." Not long thereafter, he was taken into custody for allegedly insulting the president, which is a criminal offense in Turkey. Opposition lawmakers said this was part of "an environment of fear, oppression and threat" that has emerged after Erdogan's more than a decade in power.
Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, defended the police's action on Thursday: "The presidential office needs to be shown respect, no matter who he is," Davutoglu said.
Erdogan's government was mired in corruption scandals over the past year, with four ministers facing accusations of bribery and influence-peddling. Erdogan has rounded on his opponents; the Gulenists, a powerful religious movement with allies in the country's media, judiciary and police, are now in his government's crosshairs.
The "illegal palace" mentioned by the student is Erdogan's new home in Ankara, a sprawling neo-Ottoman structure with more than 1,000 rooms. It's conspicuous for more than just its size: The palace replaces an older building once occupied by Ataturk.
As WorldViews discussed earlier, Erdogan is Turkey's most influential leader since Ataturk, and is in some ways is rewriting his legacy--championing the country's Islamic and Ottoman past that was long suppressed by decades of Ataturk-inspired secularism.
“We are not terrorists," the teenager said after being freed from detention Friday, maintaining his tough rhetoric on Erdogan's government. "When we took this path, we made a promise not to turn to back. We shall not yield to the fascist, unprogressive pressure."
If he is charged and convicted of insulting the president, the teenager could face up to four years in prison.