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Famous Turkish singer sentenced to 10 months in jail for insulting Erdogan

Zuhal Olcay was accused of changing the lyrics of one of her songs to insult Turkish President Erdogan and using a rude hand gesture
A still from the music video for Zuhal Olcay's song Pencereler Önünde (screenshot)

A famous Turkish singer and actress has been sentenced to 10 months in prison for insulting President Tayyip Erdogan during a performance in 2016, the Hurriyet newspaper said on Thursday.

Singer Zuhal Olcay was accused of changing the lyrics of one of her songs by substituting Erdogan's name into it and making an insulting hand gesture while singing, Hurriyet said.

Video from the performance showed Olcay changing her song's lyrics to read "Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it's all empty, it's all a lie, life will end one day and you'll say 'I had a dream'," Hurriyet said.

In her testimony, Olcay rejected the accusations, saying she had used Erdogan's name because it fit the rhyming scheme and had no "ulterior or insulting motive". She said the hand gesture was aimed at an audience member.

Olcay was previously fined 10,620 lira ($2,708) for "insulting a public servant" in 2010, according to the state-run Anadolu agency.

Insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison in Turkey.

Lawyers for Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, have filed more than 1,800 cases against people including cartoonists, a former Miss Turkey winner and school children on accusations of insulting him.

Enes Kanter, a Turkish basketball player in the US NBA team New York Knicks, is also on trial for insulting Erdogan, but in absentia.

Following the 2016 failed coup, Erdogan said he would drop outstanding suits, in a one-off gesture, but several new cases have since emerged.

Rights groups and some Western governments have voiced concern that Turkey is sliding toward authoritarianism, criticising a crackdown which saw some 150,000 people sacked or suspended from their jobs and more than 50,000 jailed pending trial on suspicion of links to the failed coup.

Although Erdogan has blamed the coup on the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, people from all walks of life (including outright opponents of Gulen) have faced jail since the coup.

The government says such measures are necessary to ensure stability and defend Turkey from multiple security threats.

Insulting the president has long been a punishable offence in Turkey - Article 301 of the Turkish penal code mandates jail for anyone who "publicly denigrates the Turkish Nation, the State of the Turkish Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and the judicial institutions of the State."