News & Politics

Former Miss Turkey Convicted of 'Insulting' Islamist President Erdogan

FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 file photo, former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac speaks to The Associated Press in Istanbul, Turkey. A court on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 convicted a former Miss Turkey of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan through social media postings and gave her a 14-month suspended sentence, amid deepening concerns that the country is swaying toward an increasingly authoritarian form of rule. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel, File)

Welcome to the New Turkey, where people can get locked up for saying something critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkish President Erdogan doesn't take 'insults' lightly. And by insults I mean 'any form of criticism.' Thomas Koch /

Turkish President Erdogan doesn’t take “insults” — actually, criticism — lightly. (Thomas Koch /

When the AKP came to power in the early 2000s, Western liberals claimed the party’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was pro-democracy. He was supposed to be enlightened; an innocent Islamic version of a Christian Democrat.

Well, not so much:

An Istanbul court convicts a former Miss Turkey of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan through social media postings and gives her a 14-month suspended sentence.

The court finds 27-year-old model Merve Buyuksarac guilty of insulting a public official but immediately suspends the sentence on condition that she does not re-offend within the next five years.

Back in 2014, Buyuksarac (who now goes by her married name of Ciner) shared a satirical poem on her Instagram page that prosecutors deemed “insulting” to Erdoğan. The young lady denied it was meant as an insult to the man, who was then still prime minister, but the prosecutors couldn’t care less. She had written something that could, with some creativity, be constructed as criticism of Turkey’s glorious leader.

Merve Buyuksarac Ciner (source: Instagram)

Merve Buyuksarac Ciner (source: Instagram)

The good news is that the former beauty queen won’t have to go to prison yet. The bad news: she has lost the freedom to speak her mind.

She’ll constantly be watched by the Turkish authorities and apprehended if she says something even remotely critical of Erdoğan. She either has to stop talking about politics altogether or praise the president all day long.

Buyuksarac’s lawyer has said he’ll appeal the verdict at the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg, France. Let’s hope he does. Perhaps an international court is able and willing to do what Turkish courts are not: protect human rights in Turkey.