Like most of the world, we have watched the rapid decline of civil liberties in Turkey after the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coalition of Islamic parties. Just last month, we discussed the arrest of Mehmet Emin Altunses, 16, who allegedly committed the crime of “insulting” Erdoğan. calling people who use birth control “traitors” and saying Muslims discovered America, you are not allowed to be disrespectful or insulting in discussing Erdoğan. The lawyer for a model and former Miss Turkey says she could face up to two years in prison for social media posts that prosecutors have deemed to be critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This includes the recent arrest of a Dutch journalist while Erdogan announced that Turkey was now a leading protector of the free press. The downward spiral of civil liberties in Turkey under Erdogan and the Islamic parties continued this week with announced prosecution of model and former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac, 26, for criticizing Erdogan. At issue is a simple satirical poem on Buyuksarac’s Instagram account.
Buyuksarac now faces two years in prison for quoting a few lines from a poem called the “Master’s Poem” from weekly Turkish satirical magazine Uykusuz. Erdogan’s totalitarian measures have earned him the nickname “Buyuk Usta” (the Big Master).
Buyuksarac later deleted the poem, which is a satire on the national anthem. She said that she simply thought it was funny at the time. There is nothing funny, however, in the new Turkey of the “Big Master.”
Prosecutors have simply declared that this is not a case of “freedom of expression” because it “exceed[s] the boundaries of criticism” and is “overtly humiliating” the president. We have previously discussed the fundamental failure in many Islamic countries to accept the premise of free speech, particularly in conflict with religious orthodoxy. This is an example from a nation that was once the hope of civil libertarians in the Islamic world as a secular nation.
What is truly ironic is that, when Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul, he was imprisoned for four months for reciting an Islamist poem that was deemed an incitement to religious hatred. Back then he demanded the freedom of speech that he now denies to his critics after taking power.