Former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac faces prison for 'insulting' country's president

Merve Buyuksarac

     A former Miss Turkey could be jailed for two years for posting a satirical poem on social media that criticised her country's president.

     The arrest of Merve Buyuksarac, 26, follows a crackdown in the country on critical media in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris as well as a increasing curbs on press freedoms in the country. Miss Buyuksarac is the latest person to face trial for insulting Recep Tayyip Erdogan - who recently said women are not equal to men - amid fears that the country is in danger of coming under authoritarian rule. Emre Telci, who is representing the former Miss Turkey, said an Istanbul prosecutor is demanding that Merve Buyuksarac be prosecuted on charges of insulting a public official. If she is convicted she could face a two year prison sentence. 

     Her case comes amid further controls being placed on people in Turkey - with curbs on press freedoms and social media posts. Hundreds of people who have taken part in mass protests against the government have also been prosecuted. 
     Armed Turkish police last week stopped delivery lorries leaving a newspaper's offices to make sure that they had not included a section of the French satirical magazine that might be offensive to Muslims. Although officially Turkey is secular, 99.8 per cent of the population are registered as Muslim and there has been heated debate over freedom of expression in the wake of the Paris massacres. Now it appears the Turkish crackdown is extending not just to monitoring the media, but also to its readers.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan 

     Miss Buyuksarac, an educated young professional who works as an industrial designer and writer, was detained last month for sharing a satirical poem on her Instagram account, and has denied insulting the president. 

     The 26-year-old ended up in court in the Caglayan neighbourhood of the western city of Istanbul. 
Looking nervous and flanked by armed police, she told prosecutors that she 'may have quoted a poem' from the weekly humour magazine UykusuzBut she said she deleted it soon afterwards when one of her friends warned that such messages could result in a criminal procedure from Turkish officials.
     She said: 'I shared it because I found it funny. I had no intention to insult the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.' The Master's Poem, which was shared by Buyuksarac, satirically criticises Erdogan through verses adapted from the lyrics of Turkey's national anthem. The case is continuing and prosecutor Vedat Yigit demanded 'judicial control' for Buyuksarac before the next hearing, which obliges a suspect to regularly go to a police station to sign in. The judge, however, ruled to release Buyuksarac unconditionally, pending a date for the trial set to take place later in the year. 

     It came as a high school student who was jailed last month for allegedly insulting Turkey's leader was released from custody on Friday after his arrest caused uproar and intensified fears that Turkey was lurching toward more authoritarian rule under Erdogan.

     Turkey last week blocked access to the web pages of some online news portals for republishing the cover of the Charlie Hebdo magazine's latest issue that portrays the Prophet Mohammed, labelling it provocative. Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan also lashed out at cartoons featuring the Prophet, saying that targeting the sacred values of Muslims and publishing portrayals of the Prophet was an 'open provocation'.  

     (Buyuksarac represented Turkey at the 2006 Miss World pageant held in Warsaw, Poland)

Source: The Daily Mail, UK, February 25, 2015


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