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Former Miss Turkey sentenced for insulting Erdogan

Merve Buyuksarac has been handed a suspended sentence for sharing a poem which insulted the Turkish president on social media
Merve Buyuksarac (centre) appears during a ceremony at the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw in 2006 (AFP)

A Turkish court on Tuesday found a former Miss Turkey competition winner guilty of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media, handing her a suspended sentence of more than a year.

The Istanbul court gave model Merve Buyuksarac, 27, a suspended sentence of 14 months for "publicly insulting" Erdogan in a satirical poem she posted on her Instagram account, the Dogan news agency reported.

The Master's Poem, which the model shared while Erdogan was serving as prime minister, criticises the Turkish president with verses adapted from the national anthem.

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) by critics.

Hatice Ozay, 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 have been charged in recent months for insulting or slandering Erdogan, who is accused by critics of being increasingly authoritarian.

The number of cases has risen sharply after Erdogan moved to the presidency in 2014.

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

Ironically, 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".

Earlier this month, former London mayor Boris Johnson won  a “President Erdogan Offensive Poetry competition” held by the Spectator, with a limerick about a goat.

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