Over the past year, Turkey has quietly become the poster child of what happens when a formerly reputable "developed world" nation devolves into Banana Republic status slowly at first, and then very fast.
The most recent update out of the country that president Tayyip Erdogan has gradually converted into his own fiefdom was its conversion into a full blown police state: recall a month ago we reported that the parliament passed security laws "that allow police to conduct searches and arrests without immediate court orders and use firearms against militants. The law separately empowered government-appointed governors to order police or paramilitary forces to conduct searches and detain suspects for up to 48 hours without immediate court orders, state-run Anadolu Agency said." Or for comic book buffs, a state in which Judge Dredds run rampant.
And with Turkish enforcement now granted a green light to detain anyone, for any reason, the next inevitable crackdown was only a matter of time - that on free speech.
Overnight we got a vivid example of just that when a university student in southern Turkey has been handed a one-year suspended sentence for retweeting a satirical article about a governor from Zaytung, a mock news portal in Turkey, daily Cumhuriyet has reported.
According to Hurriyet, "a court in the southern province of Adana sentenced Meral Tutcali, who is a sophomore at the sociology department of Anadolu University in the Central Anatolian province of Eskisehir, to one year in jail for retweeting the story about former Adana Gov. Hüseyin Avni Cos, who made nationwide headlines after being caught on camera angrily denouncing a protester as a “gavat” – roughly translated as “pimp” – in November 2013."
The story is beyond bizarre.
The court sentenced Tutcali for “insulting a public official for his duty,” but later decreased the jail term to 10 months for good conduct during the hearings before also deciding to defer the formal announcement of the verdict.
If Tutcali does not commit a similar crime in the following five years, her sentence will not be executed.
In other words, Retweet something Turkey's rulers disagree with, and you are going straight to jail.
Tutcali retweeted Zaytung’s news story from Jan. 6, 2014, which reported: “Adana Governor Hüseyin Avni Cos has announced his autonomy. He is more influential than RTE [Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the then-prime minister and currently the president of Turkey.]”
Zaytung, which is modeled on The Onion, is a website that publishes false and satirical stories in a journalistic style, carrying the motto: “honest, independent, immoral news.”
Tutcali’s house was twice raided by police for her retweet, while the woman was also sued on Cos’s complaint.
In November 2013, Cos first denied accusations that he said “gavat,” claiming that he said the similar-sounding “kavas,” which means “rambler.” However, he later confessed that his “tongue had slipped.”
The incident sparked a strong reaction from opposition parties, prompting Erdogan to robustly defend the Adana governor, while admitting that what he did was “inappropriate.”
Cos was later transferred from Adana near the Syrian border to Sakarya in the Marmara region in May 2014.
In retrospect, the defendant's optimism is impressive: speaking after the decision was announced, Tutcali said she was not expecting the decision and was shocked about it. "I see this decision as a part of the policy to intimidate and pressure people who think differently. I believe I do not deserve such punishment. I have not lost my faith in the upcoming bright days."
So while Americans lament the decline of the first amendment, keep in mind: things can always get worse before full Banana status is finally attained.