Turkish sculptor risks prison for 'insulting' Erdogan
ANKARA - A prominent Turkish sculptor risks over four years in prison on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after being locked in a dispute with the Turkish strongman over one of his works.
In March, a court found Erdogan guilty of insulting Mehmet Aksoy for calling the artist's "Monument of Humanity" -- created to promote reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia -- a "monstrosity".
The Ankara court ordered Erdogan to pay Aksoy 10,000 Turkish Liras ($ 3,750) in damages for insulting the renowned sculptor.
But now, prosecutors are seeking 56 months in prison for Aksoy on the grounds that he insulted the president in a comment on the controversy.
Prosecutors say that Aksoy implied that Erdogan's earnings were illegitimate, an allegation the sculptor denies.
The case comes amid growing concern over the spiralling numbers of Turks being taken to court on charges of insulting Erdogan, who is accused by his opponents of mounting authoritarianism and intolerance of criticism.
Asked on what he would be spending the money received in the compensation case against Erdogan, Aksoy had said: "I would never make a sculpture with dirty money."
It was an apparent reference to corruption allegations against Erdogan and his inner circle.
"Throughout my professional career I have sculpted nearly 10 tons of stone. What I do is very labour-intensive," Aksoy said in his testimony, quoted by Hurriyet newspaper.
"My words were not meant to insult the president. I meant that this money just fell in my lap and was not money earned through the sweat of your brow."
The 30m-high statue, erected atop a hill overlooking Kars, not far from the Turkish-Armenian border, featured two human figures, one holding an open hand toward Armenia.
"They put a monstrosity there, next to the tomb of (scholar) Hasan Harakani," Erdogan had said during his visit to eastern Kars province in 2011, in a reference to a nearby 11th century shrine.
"It is impossible to think that such a thing should exist next to a true work of art," he said.
The sculpture was rapidly demolished by local authorities after Erdogan's comments but this prompted no judicial complaint.
Turkey and Armenia have currently no diplomatic relations, and the border between the two countries has been closed since 1993.
The enmity between the countries is largely due to Turkey's support for Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, as well as its unwillingness to recognise the slaughter of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces in 1915 as genocide.