The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How a single Instagram post could end up sending a former Miss Turkey to jail

Merve Buyuksarac won Miss Turkey in 2006. Now, just under a decade later, the former model may be jailed for insulting the Turkish president.

On Wednesday, Buyuksarac's lawyer told reporters that an Istanbul prosecutor is attempting to take Buyuksarac to court for insulting a public official. If found guilty, she could face up to two years in prison, the Associated Press reports

Buyuksarac's legal woes stem from her use of social media. The former model now works as an industrial designer and writer, yet she retains a large online fan base and has almost 15,000 followers on Instagram and 30,000 on Twitter. Prosecutors allege that her insult against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared in an Instagram post from last summer.

While the post has since been deleted, Hurriyet Daily News describes it as a satirical text titled "The Master's Poem." It had originally appeared in the Turkish magazine Uykusuz, a satirical publication which prides itself on mocking the Turkish political establishment and Erdoğan in particular.

The case against the former Miss Turkey has been brewing for some time. Buyuksarac was questioned by police about the poem last month. "I don't precisely recall the content I have shared on my Instagram account," she said, according to a report from Cihan news agency. "However, I might have taken excerpts from Twitter, other social media websites or the cartoon magazine Uykusuz."

"I shared it because it was funny to me," she added. "I did not intend to insult Recep Tayyip Erdoğan."

Insulting the Turkish leader has become a risky proposal since Erdoğan made the leap from the prime minister's office to the president's office last year – a move that was result of term limits imposed by his Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has been criticized as a power grab. More than 60 people have been charged for their mockery of Erdoğan since August: Just a couple of months ago, a 16-year-old high school student was arrested after making a speech in which he described Erdoğan as "the thieving owner of the illegal palace."

Unfortunately for Buyuksarac, the Turkish president is no fan of social media either. “Twitter, mwitter!” is how he infamously put it last year, shortly before he put in force a wide-ranging yet ultimately ineffective ban on the social network. It wasn't just online insults that drew the Turkish government's ire: At the time, anonymous Twitter accounts had begun to leak what appeared to be damaging information about the inside workings of the Turkish political elite. Coming soon after a corruption scandal engulfed the upper echelons of the AKP, Erdoğan seemed to be on shaky political ground.

Erdoğan's footing appears far firmer now, but the crackdown has continuted. Journalists are one notable target, with many arrested over the past few months. Now former beauty pageant queens with large social media followings are apparently at risk too. A court will soon decide whether to pursue the case against Buyuksarac. Meanwhile, Erdoğan repeatedly talks of his country's "expanding freedoms."