Of the 140 characters allowed in a Twitter message, it took just one — "k" — to land Turkish columnist Onder Aytac with a 10-month prison sentence.
In a tweet posted on September 20, 2012, Aytac posted a link to his opinion piece that attacked an education program backed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said: “Close the prep schools, if you will, my master”.
The word “ustam” means “my chief” or "my master” in Turkish, a common way to refer to Erdogan. The rogue “k” inserted on the end, however, turned it into a phrase which literally translates as "fuck your pussy" but is used by Turks in a manner roughly synonymous to “fuck you.”
Aytac, who writes for the liberal daily Taraf newspaper, fell foul of Turkey’s draconian defamation laws, which prohibits insulting public officials.
'Aytac said the actually pretty clever pun was just the result of a typo and tweeted that he would never insult the prime minister.'
Even being extremely sympathetic to the Turkish judiciary, the reaction does seem more than a little ridiculous. Aytac has 181,000 Twitter followers, but the seven retweets and three favorites the offending statement received make it unlikely to be the sort of thing that kicks off a mass uprising.
Nevertheless, Aytac was handed a 10-month suspended sentence on Monday. The court refused to substitute a fine for the conviction, because it was the journalist’s second offence following a similar charge, local media said.
Aytac subsequently said the actually pretty clever pun was just the result of a typo and tweeted that he would never insult the prime minister.
This is the second time Aytac has run into trouble with Turkish authorities recently. He was briefly held in March over suspicions that he had had advance knowledge of a high-profile audio leak posted to YouTube. This contained an alleged recording of Turkey's intelligence chief, foreign minister, and deputy head of the armed forces discussing the possibility of military action in Syria and conducting a “false-flag” attack on Turkish soil.
The leak came in the run-up to last month’s municipal elections, which were seen by many as a vote of confidence in Erdogan's leadership. Erdogan reacted by blocking access to both Twitter and YouTube across the country for two weeks.
Authorities were suspicious of Aytac’s involvement because of a guest appearance he made on the Samanyolu television network aired before the leaked recordings emerged. During the show, Aytac said Turkish forces would invade Syria to protect the Suleyman Shah tomb from Islamic rebels, according to local media.
'Where there is a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, thief or fool, they are all pro-Allah,' tweeted pianist Fazil Say.
Samanyolu is owned by with the Islamist Gulen movement opposed to Erdogan's Justice and Development party. Aytac, who is also a scholar, has links with the movement too.
It is not the first time that Twitter has landed someone in trouble in Turkey. Pianist Fazil Say was also sentenced to 10 months in prison last September for tweets which authorities said insulted Islam.
“I am not sure if you have noticed, but where there is a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, thief or fool, they are all pro-Allah,” he said in one of the most controversial messages. In another, he asked whether the rivers of wine and beautiful women promised by the Quran to the devout in the afterlife meant heaven was like a brothel or pub.
Last week, a trial began in Izmir for 29 Turkish Twitter users accused of "inciting the public to break the law" in a series of tweets made during the opening days of the anti-government Gezi Park protests last summer.
Erdogan has been openly hostile to social media platforms for some time, particularly Twitter, which he described as “the worst menace to society” during the Gezi demonstrations. After the recent ban, it was unblocked shortly after the elections.
Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck
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