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Welcome to Turkey, where a typo in a tweet can land you in prison

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan will fight you.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan will fight you.
Ian Walton/Getty

In Turkey, mistyping a tweet can get you in prison — at least if you're someone the government wants to send to prison to begin with.

In Turkey in 2012, during a political battle over shutting down private schools, columnist and investigative journalist Onder Aytac published this tweet:

Here's what Aytac claims it was supposed to say: "KAPAT BE USTAM," or "CLOSE THEM DOWN MY CHIEF :)". That's a reference to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose supporters often call him "chief."

But that K turned "USTAM" into "USTAMK," a popular Turkish abbreviation of a curse word. So Aytac actually tweeted something like "CLOSE THEM DOWN, CHIE-EFF YOU."

Erdogan's no fan of Twitter: he wants to block it permanently in Turkey, and managed to succeed temporarily last month. He's certainly not a fan of Aytac, who writes for an opposition newspaper and has been detained recently over his role in another controversy. And he's not a fan of opposition, generally. Since Turkey has famously strict laws against insulting public officials, it's easy for Erdogan to combine those personal dislikes into a criminal conviction: on Monday, Aytac was sentenced to 10 months in jail for insulting a public official during the course of his job.

Aytac's sentence has been suspended for at least a year and perhaps indefinitely, so the conviction's just hanging over his head — a possible attempt to deter him from saying the wrong thing about public officials, intentionally or unintentionally, in the future. Whether or not the government prosecuted him for that reason, the whole episode is a good reminder of how, when a country has a broad criminal code, prosecutors can choose who to go after first, and figure out what crime they've committed afterwards.

UPDATE: Zeynep Tufekci of Medium broke this story, and this article should have credited her for her original reporting and translation. We apologize for the oversight.