Photo: Reuters/Baz Ratner
Photo: Reuters/Baz Ratner

The head of HSBC’s Turkish unit has been ensnared in the country’s crackdown on dissent, it was reported by a local newspaper on Sunday, with a suggestive tweet from 2013 coming back to haunt the senior executive.

The investigation, reported by Cumhuriyet, was prompted by HSBC Turkey CEO Selim Kervanci’s retweet of a video clip from the German film Downfall – a depiction of the last days of Adolf Hitler’s rule – during the height of demonstrations five years ago.

The allusion to one of the 20th century’s most reviled dictators during a time of rising criticism directed at then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan evidently crossed a red line in a country with a history of prosecuting insults directed at leaders.

Kervanci’s lawyer gave a deposition to prosecutors in September, according to the report, which contended that he did not intend to insult the president.

The Gezi Park protests, which saw an unofficial estimate of more than 7 million people take to the streets in Istanbul alone, represented the largest show of public unrest of Erdogan’s tenure as leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He was elected president in 2014, months after the demonstrations.

Insulting Turkey’s president has been a crime since before Erdogan took office, and is punishable by one to four years in prison, with time added for doing so publicly.

Prosecutions increased in the time leading up to Erdogan’s re-election and consolidation of power in 2018. The year 2017 saw more than 6,000 prosecutions and more than 2,000 convictions for insulting the president, according to Human Rights Watch.