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A man stands at the top of an Yes campaign billboard bearing the portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in Istanbul. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)
A man stands at the top of an Yes campaign billboard bearing the portrait of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in Istanbul. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Globe editorial

Globe editorial: Turkish President Erdogan shows his autocratic nature, and a Canadian suffers Add to ...

The stakes are getting higher for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. The national referendum on April 16 on whether he should be allowed to have the starkly undemocratic executive presidency he covets is getting closer. At the moment, the polls predict that he will not get his way, losing by a narrow margin.

For Ece Heper, a Turkish-Canadian who lives in southern Ontario, the stakes are high, too.

Late last year, Ms. Heper visited her native country, made a comment on Facebook about Mr. Erdogan and got into much more trouble than she could have bargained for.

This week, a Turkish court convicted her of the archaic crime still known in Turkey as lèse-majesté. Since 2014, the thin-skinned Mr. Erdogan has instigated about 2,000 such prosecutions against people who dared criticize him, an elected official.

Ms. Heper’s lawyer has succeeded in getting her released, pending appeal. But if the charge and the sentence stand, she could be in jail for two years and four months, all for speaking her mind. Her subsequent permanent banishment from Turkey would perhaps be the least of it.

Ms. Heper visited her native country in November. At the end of December, she unwisely said to a friend on Facebook that President Erdogan had imprisoned reporters who had suggested there was some evidence that the Turkish government had been giving support to the Islamic State. Not the sort of talk the delicate Mr. Erdogan would tolerate.

In Canada, of course, many people casually speculate about all sorts of political rumours. Not so in today’s Turkey. Two days later, Ms. Heper was in a Turkish jail, though at least she had the benefit of Canadian consular services. She didn’t get out until she was released just a few days ago.

Once upon a time, the Western world hoped that Mr. Erdogan would lead Turkey into the modern liberal-democratic era, with a political party that would be the Muslim equivalent of European Christian-Democratic parties – for example, such as Angela Merkel’s CDU in Germany.

Ms. Heper’s experience is just more evidence that this was a delusion. Mr. Erdogan has always had the instincts of an autocrat.

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