Jail for Criticizers of Turkish President

 Jail for Criticizers of Turkish President Jail for Criticizers of Turkish President

There’s no monarch in democratic Turkey – but you might not know it watching the news these days.

It has become as easy to get jailed for offending the country’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as it is in countries where lese majeste laws forbid insults to royals. The trend alarms many people who have harbored hope for Turkey as a beacon of western-style government in the Islamic world.

Take the case of Merve Buyuksarac. Last year, she posted a seemingly innocuous poem on her Instagram site. The verses, a satirical adaptation of the Turkish national anthem, did not mention Erdogan by name, but alluded to a corruption scandal that involved his family.

In January, Buyuksarac was detained for questioning over suspicion of violating the law prohibiting insults to public servants. She could face up to two years in prison.

“In democratic countries, what happened to me is not normal,” Buyuksarac told the Associated Press in an interview in an Istanbul cafe. “I think politicians have to be open to criticism.”

Thousands of others also posted the poem, which can still be found on social networking sites. But Buyuksarac thinks the government picked a celebrity to strike fear into the heart of Erdogan’s critics.

Buyuksarac may have been fortunate that she posted the poem before Erdogan changed jobs from prime minister to president in August. Last month, the chief editor of the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dundar, was hauled in for questioning under a more stringent law forbidding insults to the president. Violations of that law can lead to penalties of more than five years in prison.

His offense: publishing an interview of a prosecutor who led a corruption probe of people close to Erdogan. Erdogan has said the investigation was cooked up by rogue police and prosecutors tied to a US-based cleric he accuses of attempting a coup.

Free speech advocates have also criticized the government for using the law to muffle dissent. On Thursday, a prosecutor dismissed the case against Dundar, ruling there was no ground for a legal action, according to Dogan news agency.

The law against insulting the president has been on the books for decades and is a legacy of the veneration reserved for Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The case of a 16-year-old student in the central Anatolian city of Konya has grabbed international attention. The youth went on trial Friday for reportedly criticizing Erdogan in a speech at a student protest in December, The youth is being prosecuted for calling the president the “thieving owner of the illegal palace,” referring to the opulent presidential palace Erdogan recently had built for himself. News agencies reported that another 13-year-old boy was pulled out of his school last month by police to testify about a Facebook posting that was deemed insulting to the president.