How Posing With a Giant Penis Statue Landed an Influencer in Court

Merve Taşkin became the latest victim of Turkey’s clampdown on content creators when she was given a suspended jail term for her posts. “This scares me,” she told VICE World News.
Merve Taşkin. Photo: via tasskinmerve on Instagram
Merve Taşkin. Photo: via tasski

A Turkish influencer given a suspended jail term of five months after posing alongside a giant penis statue at Amsterdam's Sex Museum has told VICE World News she is scared about the implications of her sentence. She is the second female influencer to be given a suspended sentence for her posts in a matter of months.

“This scares me,” Merve Taşkin told VICE World News via Twitter DM. “I have not been able to share freely on social media for two years and this will continue. As far as I understand, from now on, no one will be able to share what they want in this country.”


As part of a birthday trip in January last year, Taşkin shared images of merchandise on sale, including penis-shaped pasta and a “sexy bottle opener” – as well as her sitting astride a disproportionately sized penis sculpture.

But when she came back home, she was arrested and summoned to court in Istanbul for violating Article 226 of Turkey’s penal code, referring to a range of crimes relating to obscene material that is deemed offensive.

The 23-year-old was sentenced to five months in prison on a suspended sentence on the 23rd December. She will not have to carry out her jail time so long as she breaks no further laws in the next five years.

“Everyone is paying attention even when writing something on Twitter, so that nothing bad happens to them,” Taşkin said.

She added that it is particularly complicated for social media influencers. “Since we have followers, we are counted as press in this country. Everything we share has to be an example to the people who see us.”

It is also the second time in a matter of months that a female influencer has been given a five month suspended prison sentence for their posts. In October, Pınar Yıldırım was sentenced to five months and 18 days in prison for "belittling a part of society on the basis of social class, religion, sect, sex or regional differences.”


The 2020 tweet in question had involved her writing:  “I’ve watched numerous movies with homosexuals [characters], finished one after the other, but no, no, no! I still don’t like the despicable, dishonest gender called male,” according to the indictment drafted by the İstanbul Anatolian Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

“Are you serious, when there are so many murders of women, insulting a man?????” she said in a tweet announcing the sentence, adding: “Every bad thing that happened to me was because of men! You must be so fragile, talking about insulting men.”

Taşkin’s lawyer, Samet Can Aslan, told VICE World News over email that the basis of Taşkin’s sentence “lies in provoking sexual desires and thoughts contrary to general acceptance. However, my client's social media sharings have the purpose of humor. According to our research, there are thousands of similar posts all over the world.”

Yaman Akdeniz of Turkey’s Freedom of Expression Association (İFÖD – İfade Özgürlüğü Derneği) told VICE World News: “This prosecution basically amounts to morality policing by the Turkish authorities as anything and everything can be the subject of a prosecution, as in the Merve Taşkin case.

“So, even if you share photos from a museum, that could trigger a prosecution and this type of a prosecution has the potential to create a chilling effect in Turkey and lead to self-censorship.


“Unfortunately, this is not surprising as thousands of people face prosecution for a variety of crimes involving social media postings.” 

Apart from these two cases, Turkey has been clamping down on content creators in recent months; a month ago, authorities arrested three YouTubers who were interviewing members of the public about the country’s economic downturn.

The latest Amnesty International country report for Turkey has noted that “the judicial harassment of individuals such as journalists, politicians, activists, social media users and human rights defenders for their real or perceived dissent continued”, in which many have been placed into pre-trial detention or served custodial sentences.

Milena Büyüm, a campaigner on Turkey for Amnesty, described this increased focus on censoring social media creators as “the legacy of a very heavily censored press media which has reduced the space for sharing of news and information. The reduction of the space is a big problem and yes, social media has taken a more prominent role to compensate for that.

“Social media expression then gets targeted, because it’s more visible, it’s what people turn to.”

Others have pointed to how Turkey’s obscenity charges have in this instance been used against a museum intended to educate people about the body – as well as a young woman’s right to post about it. 


Jemimah Steinfeld, head of content at the non-profit Index on Censorship, told VICE World News: “The case is another worrying sign of the declining state of freedoms in Turkey. The museum in Amsterdam is educational. If a photo like this can land one in such trouble, what next?”

When the prosecution was first announced in August, the Sex Museum’s director Monique van Marle told the BBC that the situation was “absolutely ridiculous.” The museum sent a message to Taşkin, calling her a “great role model to other women” and that “our museum is intended to educate people all around the world about the history of sex. We admire you for expressing yourself and posting such pictures.” 

Burçin Tetik, a feminist author, added: “The reason for sentencing young women who are widely visible on social media is simple: to make an example of them.

“In the case of Merve Taşkın the state specifically targeted her power to normalise sexuality since she has half a million followers on Instagram. The present laws are manipulated to punish women who are outspoken about sex whereas the same laws are never used to protect them from harassment, sexual violence and even murder.”

Taşkin says that all she can do for now is post more carefully on social media. 

“I’m afraid now. But we can’t be an example to everyone, we also have a life. Not everyone has to agree.”