Merve Buyuksarac, a former Miss Turkey, is facing up to two years in prison for a post made on her Instagram account.
Prosecutors claim her social media post “insults” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
According to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News, Buyuksarac, who is also a writer and an industrial designer, shared a satirical poem on her Instagram account called “The Master’s Poem.” The poem satirizes the president, but she says did not mean any harm.
“I shared it because I found it funny. I had no intention of insulting Erdogan,” she said.
Officials did not find the post nearly as funny as she did. Her indictment stated that “the remarks shared by the suspect could not be considered within the terms of freedom of expression.”
She is not the first person to be charged with insulting the president, who was elected in August, after serving as the country's prime minister for 11 years. According to Bloomberg Business, 67 people have been charged with insulting the president since he was elected, which averages out to approximately one case every three days.
“I didn’t insult the president — at that time he was prime minister, so it changes the case,” she said. “I only shared the poem, which was shared by 960,000 people in Turkey, and which is also not an insult.”
The poem was originally written by Uykusuz, a satirical magazine, and Buyuksarac was tried despite immediately erasing the post after she had shared it. Ironically enough, Erdogan served four months in prison in 1998 after reading an Islamic poem at a rally, which allegedly challenged the nation’s secular order.
"It used to be that Turkish leaders would go after journalists for their columns and reporting,” Susan Corke, director of Eurasia programs at watchdog group Freedom House, told Bloomberg. “Now with social media, President Erdogan and many other Turkish leaders, like Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek, have turned the attack on the whole society.”
The nation has been heavily criticized for actions in recent years which has led people to believe the nation is heading towards authoritarian rule. Turkey has regulated and taken away media freedoms from its citizens and successfully banned the use of Twitter until the court lifted the ban in April 2014.
Alev Yaman, the Turkey researcher at PEN International says these actions are common and are not out of the ordinary for the country. “There have been about 30 media bans, like this one about the Hebdo cover, recently,” she said. “Generally these bans covered stories about government corruption or the movement of lorries passing into Syria. Now if a publication or person does publish the cover they could face a fine or possibly jail time.”
According to Newsweek, a law passed in February 2014 gave the country the right to ban any website without a court ruling. In addition to Twitter, YouTube was also banned before a local election in March but the court eventually lifted both bans.
As scheduled parliamentary elections near on June 7, Turkey is definitely a nation to keep your eyes on.
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