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Kurdish Player Sentenced For Tweeting ‘Long Live Freedom’


A Turkish court handed down a suspended jail sentence to a Kurdish soccer star playing for Diyarbakir-based Amedspor in 2nd Tier over charges of terrorism propaganda, in a decision that exposed how country’s political turbulence gutted the country’s civilian landscape even for sports.

Prosecutors sought 5-year prison sentence for Deniz Naki over a tweet he posted after a match against Bursaspor in Turkish Cup on Oct. 31, in 2015.

Amedspor advanced to quarterfinals after defeating Bursaspor 2-1. “We are dedicating this victory to those who lost their lives in atrocities that lasted more than 50 days and the wounded. Her Biji Ajadi [Long Live Freedom],” he said on Twitter after the match. That sparked a protracted legal battle.

In November, last year the court acquitted him of the charges he faces. But a higher court in Gaziantep overturned the decision on Feb. 17 this year, opening the way of a retrial.

Mr. Naki has become a public face and expression of Kurds’ dissent in the face of a ruthless crackdown on Kurdish political party and non-governmental organizations across the southeast.

But his calls for peace landed him on the radar of government, which accused the soccer star of engaging in politics, fomenting chaos and hatred.

On Thursday, a regional criminal court in the southern province of Gaziantep confirmed his sentence for 1.2 years in prison but suspended the jail term for 5 years unless the player commits another crime.

The line between politics and sports have blurred in Turkey’s southeast where a vicious war laid waste to cities, killed thousands of people and security forces members, and displaced half a million residents.

The fighting took a heavy toll on the civic landscape, too, as the already diminished scope for political and social expression faced further hits. Civil society and critical media are on life support, democracy in tatters.

For millions of Kurds, politics appear to be losing its appeal after their representatives ruthlessly rounded up by authorities in an escalating political crackdown on the Kurdish party.

Hundreds of People’s Democracy Party (HDP) members, including its co-chairs, are in jail.

Mr. Naki’s activism on social media to demand improvement of ordinary peoples’ lives, his calls for an end to the clashes in urban areas turned him a public enemy of the authorities.

He is not the only soccer player that faces the wrath of the Turkish government. Former national team star Hakan Sukur, the all-time top scorer in the Turkish football league and for the national team, found himself at the crosshair of government for his links to U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Arif Erdem and several Galatasaray players, all are towering figures of Turkish football, have also become targets of the government’s vicious hunt.


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