Former Miss Turkey beauty queen found guilty of insulting President Erdogan over social media, sentenced to jail

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during the opening ceremony of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISTANBUL (AFP) - A Turkish court on Tuesday (May 31) found a former Miss Turkey beauty queen guilty of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media, handing her a suspended sentence of over one year in jail.

The Istanbul court sentenced model Merve Buyuksarac, 27, to one year and two months in prison for "publicly insulting" Mr Erdogan in a satirical poem she posted on her Instagram account, the Dogan news agency reported.

The punishment has been suspended, it added, without giving further details.

The "Master's Poem" - which was shared by the model while Mr Erdogan was serving as prime minister - criticises the Turkish strongman with verses adapted from the national anthem.

Mr Erdogan, who was elected president in August 2014 after serving as prime minister for more than a decade, is often called "Buyuk Usta" (the Big Master).

Mr Hatice Ozay, Mr Erdogan's lawyer, told the court that the model's posts on social media cannot be considered criticism but rather was an "attack against my client's personal rights".

Buyuksarac won the Miss Turkey competition in 2006 and has since worked as a model as well as appearing on reality TV shows.

After being briefly detained in January 2015, she admitted to sharing the poem which had been printed in a Turkish satirical magazine but said she did not want to insult the president.

A string of journalists as well as ordinary citizens end up in court for insulting or slandering Mr Erdogan, who is accused by critics of being increasingly authoritarian.

The number of cases has swelled after Mr Erdogan moved to the presidency in 2014 because in the past his predecessors rarely used the practice.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said in March that almost 2,000 people in Turkey have been prosecuted for insulting Mr Erdogan since he became president.

Ironically, Mr Erdogan was himself sent to jail in 1999 for reciting, while mayor of Istanbul, a nationalist and Islamist-tinged poem that the authorities of the time deemed was guilty of "inciting religious hatred".

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