The Turkish Football Federation said on Friday it had suspended a Kurdish player for statements considered “ideological propaganda” on the conflict in the Kurdish-majority southeast, adding to a string of cases cracking down on freedom of expression in Turkey.
Deniz Naki, a forward with the Amedspor club in the main Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, has been barred from playing 12 matches and must pay a fine of 19,500 Turkish lira (around 6,200 euros), the TFF said in a statement.
At issue are comments Naki, who was born in Germany, made to the pro-Kurd newspaper Evrensel calling for an end to the fighting between Turkish security forces and rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“We have no other choice but to call for peace,” the footballer said.
The TFF’s disciplinary committee said in a statement it considered those remarks “ideological propaganda” and contrary to the “spirit of sports”.
Naki has now joined a growing list of people -- journalists, professors and TV presenters -- singled out by officials for expressing opinions about the Kurdish conflict.
In recent months, two senior opposition journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper have been arrested and prosecutors have opened a probe into more than 1,200 academics who signed a petition criticising the ongoing military offensive against the PKK.
Even a Turkish professor faces trial for “terrorist propaganda” over an exam question on a jailed Kurdish rebel chief, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
And a popular television talk show is under investigation for the same charge after a caller phoned in to raise alarm over the human cost of the military crackdown on Kurdish rebels in the strife-hit southeast.
Concerns about free speech in Turkey recently brought a rebuke of rare vehemence from Washington.
During a January visit to Istanbul, US Vice President Joe Biden said Turkey was failing to set the right “example” on freedom of expression, pointing to journalists being “intimidated or imprisoned for critical reporting”.
The Turkish military is currently waging a major campaign against PKK rebels with the stated aim of flushing out militants, but activists say the operation has cost dozens of civilian lives.
Over 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK took up arms in 1984 demanding an independent state for Kurds. Since then the group has narrowed its demands to greater autonomy and cultural rights.