A Canadian woman detained in Turkey has been found guilty of insulting the country’s president, but said she has been released from prison as her lawyer pursues an appeal of the case.
Ece Heper said she is happy to be out of prison, where she had been held since late December after being charged for comments she wrote about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media.
“I still haven’t processed this,” Heper told The Canadian Press in a brief interview Wednesday. “I need a break, but I’m OK.”
Heper, a dual Canadian-Turkish citizen, said she had been awake for more than two days after a whirlwind trial in the northeastern city of Kars followed by her release and a 10-hour drive to a friend’s place in southern Turkey.
Her lawyer, Sertac Celikkaleli, said Heper was sentenced to two years and four months but has been released from prison while an appeal is pursued, although she cannot leave the country. After the term of her sentence is up, Heper will be banished from Turkey, he said.
The lawyer noted that there is a possibility Heper could return to prison depending on the outcome of the appeal.
The Canadian government is providing consular assistance to Heper from its embassy in Ankara, according to Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Austin Jean.
Heper, 50, has been in Turkey since November and was charged on Dec. 30, according to Celikkaleli. She got into trouble over Facebook posts about Erdogan.
In one posted on Dec. 28, Heper accused the president of jailing journalists who suggest there is evidence Turkey is supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL.
Heper has a log home in Norwood, Ont., about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto, according to her friend Birgitta Pavic, where she lives with five dogs she rescued from Turkey “that are like her children.”
Her parents are dead and she lost touch with her brother, Pavic said. Her friends previously said Heper had been spending more time in Turkey after meeting a man in southern Turkey near the Syrian border.
She told friends the man had been in exile and living in a Kurdish region in Syria’s north. Pavic said Heper told her the man came back to Turkey and was arrested in September — purportedly for a link to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a group listed as a terrorist organization in Turkey.
Heper’s friends said she was living in Mardin, a city in southeastern Turkey, but travelled to Kars to get the man’s wife and bring her to visit him in jail. She was arrested in the woman’s home, her friends said.
Freedom of expression has become an issue in Turkey. Since becoming president in 2014, Erdogan has filed about 2,000 defamation cases under a previously seldom-used law that bars insulting the president.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press