July 18, 2018 / 12:29 PM / a month ago

Turkish opposition leader fined record sum for defamation of Erdogan, family

ANKARA, July 18 (Reuters) - Turkey’s main opposition leader was fined on Wednesday for defaming President Tayyip Erdogan and his family over claims about international money transfers, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Erdogan has dismissed the allegations by Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu, saying in November last year that his family “haven’t sent a dime abroad”.

Officials at the presidency could not immediately be reached for comment.

The president, who was re-elected three weeks ago and assumed sweeping new executive powers, had vowed to take Kilicdaroglu to court, saying he would “pay the price”.

Kilicdaroglu has since been ordered to pay Erdogan moral damages in several court cases, but Wednesday’s ruling ordering a 359,000 lira ($75,000) payment to the president and his close circle marked the largest sum yet.

Separately, authorities also launched an investigation into Kilicdaroglu after he posted a cartoon on social media in which Erdogan’s face was drawn onto several animals, with the caption “Land of Tayyip”, Anadolu said.

The cartoon was a reference to a similar one used to mock Erdogan by students from Turkey’s Middle East Technical University during their graduation ceremony earlier this month. Four students were arrested in relation to the cartoon for “insulting the president”.

Insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison in Turkey, and Erdogan’s lawyers have filed more than 1,800 cases against people on such accusations.

Human rights groups say the Turkish government has grown increasingly intolerant of opposition voices since a failed coup in July 2016. Authorities have detained and formally charged 77,000 people suspected of links to the putsch, the interior minister said in March. They have also shut down about 130 media outlets.

Rights groups and Western allies have warned that Erdogan was using the abortive putsch as a pretext to muzzle dissent, but the government has said the measures were necessary.

Critics have also accused Erdogan of sliding further into authoritarianism under an all-powerful executive presidency which came into effect after his election victory last month, saying it paved the way for one-man rule.

Erdogan has said the changes to the presidency are necessary to help Turkey confront security threats from conflict on its southern borders with Syria and Iraq, Kurdish militants waging an insurgency in the southeast, and supporters of a U.S.-based cleric Ankara blames for the failed 2016 coup.

$1 = 4.7827 liras Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Editing by Dominic Evans, William Maclean

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