ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — More and more journalists, government officials and ordinary citizens in Turkey have been imprisoned for relatively minor offenses such as "insulting" President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mehmet is a Kurd living in southeastern Turkey who faces prison time for anti-Erdogan "likes" or comments on Facebook.
His Facebook interactions date back to 2015 — just months after Erdogan was then elected as prime minister.
Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code states: "The person who insults the President shall be punished by imprisonment from 1 year to 4 years." However, the law was virtually unused prior to Erdogan coming to power.
Mehmet detailed exactly how the events unfolded, and although he hasn't been arrested, he is waiting for his day in court and hoping to remain free.
In December, Mehmet received a phone call from the local police telling him he must come to the police station but refused to tell him the reason. He said he told the police that if he isn't being charged, there is no reason for him to appear.
Yet the officer insisted and gave him a week to come to the station or possibly face detention.
When Mehmet arrived at the police station, he was told by an officer that he was a suspect for "liking" certain Facebook pages or joining groups in 2015 as well as sharing some anti-Erdogan photos or making comments on anti-Erdogan posts.
Mehmet also mentioned that his Facebook security settings were set to private so there would be no way for his personal timeline to easily be seen publicly.
While at the police station, Mehmet was told to sign a paper admitting to his Facebook activities, even though explained the posts were from nearly four years ago, and even if he did "like" a certain page or share a photo, he couldn't remember that far back, claiming his old phone had been stolen.
The police claimed they had screenshots of each activity, yet they refused to show them to Mehmet.
Mehmet requested to call his lawyer for advice before signing anything, but was told by the police officer he wasn't allowed to use the phone.
When he asked the officer what would happen if he didn't sign the paper, he was intimidated and told he'd be detained until his lawyer arrived.
Fearing detainment, Mehmet signed the paper and was allowed to leave.
He then consulted with a lawyer and found out only then that if he was charged for "insulting the president" he could face 1-4 years in prison or pay a hefty fine, but wouldn't be allowed to use Facebook or other social media for five years.
"I learned that they may blame me for liking some pages or pictures of Kurdish political parties or any comments against Turks or Turkey," Mehmet said.
In the consultation with the lawyer, Mehmet was told of one client who the lawyer represented had also been charged with "insulting the president" but instead of prison time, had to pay 20,000 Turkish lira in fines (approximately $3,500) and was banned from social media for five years.
He also found out another person, a teacher, who served seven years in jail for the same offence in addition to another common crime according to Turkey for "supporting a terrorist organization."
In March of last year, Zuhal Olcay, a prominent Turkish singer and actress, was sentenced
to 10 months in prison for insulting Erdogan while performing on stage in 2016.
Mehmet's lawyer told him that more than 300 people have been imprisoned in Turkey on the same charge; however, Erdogan has filed nearly 2,000 lawsuits against normal citizens, government employees and celebrities, even school children, since he took office in 2014 according to the Associated Press.
"Turkish law is hard, especially for Kurds, because they don't give us our rights," Mehmet said.
"I've thought about this a lot. Did I kill anyone? Did I attack Erdogan? Did I use guns or weapons against Erdogan or Turks or Turkey? No, but they'll punish me for social media," he added.
"How can they punish me for using Facebook after four years?" he questioned.
Mehmet is now in limbo, awaiting an email from the Turkish courts on when he should appear before a judge which could take several months.
"I'm really worried," he added. "I don't feel safe."
Turkey recently has plummeted in freedom of press and expression ranking by international watchdogs.
"I don't feel Turkey is a democratic country and there are no human rights. Like many other people, I don't feel comfortable in Turkey," he added. "Especially if you aren't a Turk or you don't support Erdogan."
Turkish authorities have arrested hundreds of opposition politicians, journalists, activists and private citizens in recent months for criticizing the government, particularly for its military incursion into Afrin. Social media critics have been branded terrorist sympathizers and Gulenists.
Note: The name of the accused was changed.