ANKARA, Turkey — A high school student who was jailed for allegedly insulting Turkey’s president was released from custody on Friday after his arrest caused uproar in the country.
The 16-year-old boy was arrested on Wednesday, a day after he took part in a small left-wing student rally commemorating the death of a pro-secular army officer slain by Islamists 84 years ago.
The boy, who can only be identified by his initials M.E.A. because of Turkish laws that protect the identity of minors, made a speech during the rally in which he said the students didn’t regard Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the president, but as the “thieving owner of the illegal palace,” according to court papers seen by The Associated Press.
His words referred to a vast government corruption scandal that has implicated members of Erdogan’s family, as well as a controversial 1,150-room palace in the capital, Ankara, which Erdogan inaugurated in October.
The arrest of the boy at Meram Technical and Vocational high school in Konya, central Turkey, sparked an outcry, with opposition parties denouncing it as the latest example of the government’s descent toward authoritarianism and its crackdown on dissent. Dozens of lawyers volunteered to defend the teen and petitioned for his release.
The boy walked through the gates of a detention center in Konya after a court there agreed to free him from police custody on Friday. It is a crime in Turkey to insult the president and the boy could face up to four years in prison if he is charged and convicted.
The student denied during questioning that his words were intended as an insult to Erdogan, according to the court papers.
Video footage showed the boy being embraced by his mother as he emerged from custody. Dozens of his supporters sang and beat a drum in celebration of his release.
“We are not terrorists,” the boy said after his release. “When we took this path, we made a promise not to turn to back. We shall not yield to the fascist, unprogressive pressure.”
“We said we were the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal — that’s why we were thrown in,” he said, his voice breaking, referring to Turkey’s late leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the modern, secular Turkish republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. “We were intimidated.”
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had defended the boy’s detention on Thursday, saying: “The presidential office needs to be shown respect, no matter who he is.”
Davutoglu added that his government would “protect the young.” Erdogan hasn’t commented on the boy’s detention.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, welcomed his release saying it was “wrong for a child to be kept in custody even for a minute.”
“A child’s place is not prison,” the teenager’s mother, Nazmiye Gok, told reporters and supporters who gathered outside the detention center. “They need to be in school, sitting at their desks.”
“I am not ashamed of my child. I am proud of him,” she said.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press