- A former beauty queen in Turkey was found guilty of insulting the country’s leader
- Model Merve Buyuksarac was handed out a 14-month suspended sentence for sharing a poem on Instagram that supposedly defamed President Erdogan
- She became the latest victim of the government’s suppression of freedom of expression
A former beauty queen and model has been found guilty of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a poem she shared on Instagram back in 2014 to become the latest victim of government suppression of freedom of expression on social media.
Merve Buyuksarac, 27 years old and a former Miss Turkey in 2006, was handed a 14-month suspended prison sentence which means she could be put behind bars eventually if she committed the same act of ‘insulting a public official’ over the next five years.
According to the Associated Press (AP), Buyuksarac posted a ‘seemingly innocuous’ poem entitled ‘A Master’s Poem’ on her Instagram account which the prosecutors found very critical of President Erdogan, who was still the Prime Minister at that time. The poem had used the country’s national anthem in its verses.
“I shared it because I found it funny. I had no intention to insult President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” the beauty titlist was quoted as saying at that time.
The controversial poem actually referred to a high-level corruption scandal that happened that same year. It was only shared by Buyuksarac and was not her own composition, according to her lawyer.
“Merve was prosecuted for sharing a posting that did not belong to her. My client has been convicted for words that do not belong to her,” lawyer Emre Telci told Al Jazeera.
But the prosecutor argued in court that the poem had gone “beyond the limits of criticisms” and amounted to an attack on the personal rights of the Turkish leader, which is considered a crime punishable with up to four years imprisonment in Turkey.
While the law was seldom used by previous administrations, President Erdogan actively utilized it to suppress criticisms especially on social media.
Since his ascension to the presidency in 2014, the 61-year-old Erdogan has filed almost 2,000 defamation cases against journalists, comedians, cartoonists and even teenagers and schoolchildren.
The trend has alarmed international human rights watchdogs, raising concerns for the country’s deteriorating freedoms among people “who have harbored hope for Turkey as a beacon of Western-style government in the Islamic world.”