A Turkish Twitter celebrity is being sued for allegedly advocating drug consumption, and attempting to use social media to overthrow the government. The Twitter celebrity, Pınar Karagöz, claims her tweets were in fact making reference to a Netflix series.
A growing list of alleged crimes
This tweet has been introduced as evidence in a court case charging Karagöz with the crime of promoting drug use which is an actual crime in Turkey . Although Karagöz said the tweet was published “for fun” in reference to the Netflix series Narcos that features Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar, she was initially handed a 7-year jail sentence on 12 July 2019.
Upon learning of her sentencing, Karagöz published an emotional video in which she says—her voiced choked with tears—that “I've learned that I've been handed a 7-year prison sentence because of my tweet about Escobar.”
— Öylemiymiş! (@oylemiymis1) July 12, 2019
This woman was sentenced to 7 years because of a tweet that she sent as a joke.
Later, the court reduced the sentence to 5 years and 10 months in prison and a fine of over US$ 11,000. Karagöz then tweeted:
Escobar izleyip burada yorumlamayın, 5-10 yıl hapis alırsınız… müthiş bir ülke yemin ederim…. pic.twitter.com/bNT7rGGjhL
— PuCCa (@PuCCaa) December 20, 2018
Do not watch and comment about the Escobar series here, you'll get 5-10 years imprisonment… What a great country…
The other crime with which Karagöz was charged was using social media in an attempt to overthrow the government. The court's decision made the claim that “taking into account the impact of social media in society, it is possible to conclude that in some countries, social media has managed to overthrow the government by uniting people under specific ideologies.”
Free speech debate
As Karagöz's video started to circulate on social media, certain netizens noted that the punishment was not fair, considering the charges usually brought against serious offenders such as rapists:
7 sene hapis ve 4.000 para cezasına çarptırıldı Hayır katil olduğu ya da insanlara tecavüz ettiği için değil, anne ve bir yazar olduğu için. Narcos dizisini izleyip Escobar ile ilgili bir tweet attığı için.Uyuşturucuya özendirdiği için Mükemmel(!) ülke mükemmel(!) adalet. #pucca pic.twitter.com/SnrQo86KQJ
— Bûse (@buseluna) July 12, 2019
She was sentenced to seven years in prison and a fine of 4,000 lira. Not because she is a murderer or because she is a rapist. But because she is a mother, and a writer. For watching Narcos tv series and tweeting about Escobar. For encouraging drugs. Perfect (!) Country Perfect (!) Justice
Düşündükçe aklım almıyor. Dizilerde uyuşturucu kaçakçıları kahraman yapılıyor, ufacık çocuklar tecavüze uğrayıp tecavüzcüsüyle evlendiriliyor ama bir sosyal medya fenomeni Escobar hakkında tweet atınca 7 yıl hapis alıyor. Başka bir boyutta yaşıyoruz. Ya da yaşıyor muyuz? #pucca
— Özgür Uysal (@etoburzebra) July 20, 2019
I don't get it. In the (Turkish) series drug traffickers become heroes, raped teenage children marry the person who raped them, but when she (Pucca) tweeted about Escobar, she gets seven years prison. We live in another dimension. Or are we even alive?
Yet others said she deserved the sentence because she set a “bad example” for Turkish youth.
Senin uyuşturucuyu özendirici mesajını on binlerce genç gördü. Aralarından sadece biri bile merak edip bu zehirle tanıştıysa, o gencin hayatının değeri 7 yıl hapis midir?
O genç senin çocuğun da olabilir.
— Mehmet Ali ÖNEL (@Mehmet_Ali_ONEL) July 13, 2019
Tens of thousands of young people have seen your drug-promoting message. If only one of them ever wondered about this poison and tried this poison, can that young person's life match the seven year prison sentence? That young person could have been your child. Now stop crying and look at what you have done from this perspective, try looking through that window.
#Pucca hapse girmeyi haketti
1 genç onun yüzünden uyuşturucuya başlasaydı vebali kimde olacaktı
7 yıl hapis 1 TÜRK gencinin hayatı için az https://t.co/uwBAMfNpcf
— Ceren Laz Kızı ⚡ LAZ-400 🇹🇷 (@CerenLazKizi) July 12, 2019
Pucca deserves to go to jail. Who would be to blame, if just one youngster started drugs because of her. 7 years in prison for 1 young Turk is not enough.
The debate took an unexpected international turn as Pablo Escobar's son joined the debate by starting to follow Karagöz on Instagram.
Pablo Escobar'ın oğlu Pucca'yı Instagram'dan takip etti pic.twitter.com/S3LaaUKOXK
— İzmir (@tabikiizmir) July 17, 2019
Pablo Escobar's son followed Pucca on Instagram pic.twitter.com/S3LaaUKOXK
— İzmir (@tabikiizmir) July 17, 2019
As comments continue to develop, and more people take sides, the conversation around Karagöz's Tweets case has reopened a debate around censorship in today's Turkey. Some netizens have expressed the view that Karagöz's experience has reinforced their fear of writing what they think, particularly if they are critical of, or opposed to President Recep Erdoğan's policies.
bi an bu tweet yuzunden hapis yatarim korkusu geldi allah belami versn sadece cok yorgunum
— catsu (@thequanium) July 19, 2019
I fear imprisonment now because of this tweet, goddamn, I'm just too tired
Turkey has indeed lost a number of political freedoms in recent years, as documented in scores of international country reports. The 2019 Freedom House Freedom in the World Report states that self-censorship is on the increase. According to the report:
“While not every utterance that is critical of the government will be punished, the arbitrariness of prosecutions, which often result in pretrial detention and carry the risk of lengthy prison terms, is increasingly creating an atmosphere of self-censorship.”
Clearly, the court's decision in Karagöz’s case is perceived by Turkey's social media users as a warning to think twice before expressing themselves on social media.