Nearly 2,000 legal cases opened for insulting Turkey's Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference after meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria March 2, 2016 REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish prosecutors have opened nearly 2,000 cases against people for insulting Tayyip Erdogan since he became Turkey’s president 18 months ago, the justice minister said on Wednesday.

Insulting the president is a crime in Turkey punishable by up to four years in jail, but the law has previously been invoked only rarely. Critics accuse Erdogan of intolerance and say he is using the law to stifle dissent.

Those who have faced trial for insulting Erdogan include journalists, cartoonists, academics and even schoolchildren.

“The justice ministry has allowed 1,845 cases on charges of insulting Erdogan to go ahead,” Bekir Bozdag said, responding to questions in parliament.

“I am unable to read the shameful insults made against our president. I start to blush,” said Bozdag, who is from Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party.

Last month, a Turkish man filed a criminal complaint against his wife for insulting Erdogan. It is the first known case where somebody has faced legal action for comments made about Erdogan in the privacy of their own home.

Erdogan became president in 2014 after serving as prime minister for more than a decade. He is now trying to reshape Turkey’s constitution to boost the powers of the president, until now a largely ceremonial role.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Gareth Jones