A court on Tuesday convicted a former Miss Turkey of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan through social media postings and sentenced her to a 14-month suspended sentence, amid deepening concerns that the country is swaying toward an increasingly authoritarian form of rule.
The court in Istanbul found 27-year-old model Merve Buyuksarac guilty of insulting a public official but immediately suspended the sentence on condition that she does not reoffend within the next five years.
Her lawyer, Emre Telci, said he would file a formal objection to the verdict and appeal her case at the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Justice.
Buyuksarac, who was crowned Miss Turkey in 2006, was briefly detained last year for sharing a satirical poem on her Instagram account in 2014. Prosecutors deemed it to be insulting to Erdogan, who was still prime minister at the time. She has denied insulting Erdogan.
Since becoming president in 2014, Erdogan has filed close to 2,000 defamation cases under a previously seldom-used law that bars insulting the president. Free speech advocates say the law is being used aggressively to silence and intimidate critics.
The trials have targeted journalists, academics and even schoolchildren. Coupled with a crackdown on opposition media and journalists, the trials have sounded alarms over the erosion of rights and freedoms in a country that was once seen as a model of Muslim democracy.
Erdogan caused an uproar last month, when on the basis of an archaic law that criminalizes insulting foreign heads of state, he went after a German comedian who mocked him in a profanity-packed poem.
“These insult trials are being initiated in series, they are being filed automatically,” Telci told The Associated Press by telephone after the verdict. “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.”
Thousands of others also posted the poem, which is a satirical adaptation of the Turkish national anthem. It did not mention Erdogan by name, but alluded to a corruption scandal that allegedly involved his family.
Before the verdict was announced, Erdogan’s lawyer argued in court that Buyuksarac’s Instagram post had gone beyond “the limits of criticism” and amounted to “an attack” on the Turkish leader’s personal rights, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.