(Bloomberg) -- The chief executive officer of HSBC Holdings Plc’s Turkish unit will stand trial over allegations that he insulted Recep Tayyip Erdogan during anti-government protests six years ago, according to documents seen by Bloomberg and the office of the president’s lawyer.
An Istanbul court accepted an indictment by prosecutor Tuncay Karcioglu on Jan. 24, the documents show. The first hearing will be held on April 11, according to the office of Ahmet Ozel, a lawyer for Erdogan listed in the indictment. Insulting Erdogan or other public officials is a crime in Turkey.
HSBC’s Selim Kervanci was being investigated by the prosecutor’s office over a video he retweeted during the so-called Gezi protests in 2013. A clip he shared was from the 2004 German movie “Downfall,” set during Adolf Hitler’s last days and depicting the collapse of Nazi Germany. The indictment seen by Bloomberg alleges the video that Kervanci shared on social media offended Erdogan by drawing parallels with Hitler.
The 49-year-old bank chief is one of the highest-profile executives caught up in the government’s crackdown on dissent that escalated in earnest after the Gezi protests. With local elections approaching in March, the president has recently revived his attacks on those he blames for organizing the 2013 rallies. Erdogan often describes the demonstrations as a precursor to the failed coup to remove him almost three years ago.
The freedom to publicly criticize Erdogan and his government was severely curtailed in Turkey after June 2013, when a small sit-in against the redevelopment of the Gezi Park in central Istanbul morphed into weeks of nationwide protests against the government. Restrictions against free speech grew even worse after the attempted putsch.
Kervanci’s Istanbul-based lawyer, Nazli Kara, didn’t return calls to her office for comment. The bank executive also didn’t respond to a call to his mobile number and didn’t immediately reply to a text message. The prosecutor and HSBC Turkey’s press office declined to comment.
(Updates with more details of the case and background starting in fourth paragraph.)
--With assistance from Constantine Courcoulas and Asli Kandemir.
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