A dual Canadian citizen was arrested last week in southern Kars, Turkey, after posting multiple Facebook updates insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling him “America’s biyatch” and an “idiot.”
Ece Heper was arrested under Article 299 of the Turkish criminal code, which allows for a maximum sentence of four years to anyone who is convicted of “insulting the President.” Heper, who had reportedly been nearly two months in Turkey helping a Kurdish man who had been recently arrested for allegedly having ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a U.S.-designated Marxist terrorist group, published multiple Facebook posts condemning Erdogan.
“[Erdogan is] just jailing journalists that come out with pure evidence on how Turkey supports ISIS,” Vice quotes from one Facebook post, adding that she referred to him as “America’s biyatch.” Vocativ adds that she had referred to the president as a “jack ass” and “idiot” on Facebook, as well.
Heper appears to have been referring to the case of Cumhuriyet journalists Erdem Gül and Can Dündar, both arrested after the newspaper published a report revealing evidence that Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MIT, had been secretly shipping arms to Syria. Cumhuriyet later published a report citing a prosecutorial investigation that Turkish military officers had been in telephone contact with Islamic State jihadist operatives in Syria. The government refuted both reports and accused Cumhuriyet of publishing terrorist propaganda. While the Turkish courts freed both men, Dündar resigned from his post as editor-in-chief and now lives in Europe.
“She is intense and opinionated, for sure, but everything is intense over there right now, especially criticizing the government,” friend Birgitta Pavic told The Canadian Press. Pavic has shared a support group on Facebook for her friend, which states that Heper is suffering from various medical ailments those in Canada fear will not be treated properly in Turkish prison. Heper “received cancer treatment in the past and recently diagnosed as pneumonia [sic] so [friends in Turkey] are seriously worried about her health,” the group states.
Heper’s case is far from the first such instance of Turkish authorities using social media to arrest Turkish nationals, though Heper’s status as a dual citizen may cause friction between Ankara and Ottawa. Multiple cases of social media arrests have surfaced in the past several years, including the arrest of a former beauty queen for sharing a satirical anti-Erdogan poem on Instagram, the arrest of a doctor who shared a meme on Facebook likening Erdogan to the Lord of the Rings character Gollum, and the arrest of 12-year-old children for reportedly taking down an Erdogan poster.
In another similar case, a 17-year-old was arrested in 2015 for reportedly insulting Erdogan on Facebook, while the Turkish state also investigated the media outlet CNN Türk in January 2016 for reportedly using the word “dictator” to refer to Erdogan. Less than a year later, Erdogan would declare, “I don’t care if they call me a dictator.”
In September, Erdogan chose to withdraw his criminal complaints in over four thousand cases of “insulting the president.” The amnesty did not prevent subsequent cases of criminal charges brought on the accusation of insult to Erdogan, however. Most recently, the head of the cafeteria at the offices of Cumhuriyet was arrested for stating of Erdogan that, given the chance, “I would not serve that man a cup of tea.”