In Turkey, now an 'obscene hand gesture' can land you in jail

Agence France-Presse
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters as he leaves from a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, November 1, 2015. 
Murad Sezer

A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced a woman to almost a year in jail for making an obscene hand gesture at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an anti-government protest in 2014, reports said Tuesday.

Filiz Akinci was convicted of making an offensive hand gesture at Erdogan — then prime minister — while his bus was passing on his way to a rally for local elections in the western city of Izmir in March 2014.

In the sixth hearing of the trial on Wednesday, the court in Izmir sentenced Akinci, an economist and a mother of two, to 11 months and 20 days in jail, Dogan news agency reported.

The court had originally sentenced her to six months in jail, but doubled it because the "victim" was a public official, Dogan added.

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Akinci's sentence was eventually reduced by ten days due to her "good behavior" during the trial. She was also ordered to pay 1,800 Turkish lira ($590; 540 euros) in legal costs to Erdogan's lawyer Sema Cansu Bozkurt Sutcu.

"I am not guilty. I didn't commit any crime," Akinci told the court, breaking down into tears when the verdict was read out.

The judges did not suspend her sentence, as in most past cases of suspects accused of insulting Erdogan or other top officials.

Concerns have mounted in recent months over freedom of expression in Turkey, in particular over the spiraling numbers of Turks being taken to court on charges of insulting Erdogan, accused by his opponents of increasing authoritarianism.

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Prosecutors last week even opened an investigation against the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu for insulting the president by calling him a "tinpot dictator."

Without naming her, in a speech after the incident Erdogan had lashed out at Akinci for making the gesture, saying: "You did this when the prime minister of this country was passing by. I would understand if it was a man, but I do not understand how a woman could do it."

Izmir, a port city on the Aegean coast, is seen as a bastion of secularism where Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) fares far less well than in its Anatolian strongholds.

Erdogan, who became president in August 2014 after almost 12 years as prime minister, faced street protests after a corruption scandal erupted in December 2013, implicating his key allies.