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Lawyer detained for insulting Islamic law released on judicial probation

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A Turkish lawyer who was detained on Monday for insulting Sharia, the religious law that is part of the Islamic tradition, on social media platform X, has been released from police custody on judicial probation, her lawyer announced.

Feyza Altun’s detention attracted widespread criticism, with many saying she was being punished merely for defending secularism, one of the principles of the Turkish Republic enshrined in the constitution.

Altun’s lawyer, Oğuzhan Arslan, announced on X on Tuesday morning that Altun has been released from police custody on the condition that she check in at a police station twice a week as well abide by a travel ban.

However, Altun’s release has been challenged by the Beykoz Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which earlier in the morning referred her to court for arrest.

An investigation was launched into Altun after she said “F*** Sharia” in response to a comment on a Persian poem she posted on X that said, “Feyza seems to have a Sharia attack,” referring to the phrase “panic attack.”

Altun deleted the post after being targeted on social media, with users launching a campaign with the hashtag “#feyzaaltuntutuklansın” (Feyza Altun should be arrested.)

The Beykoz Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched the probe into Altun based on Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which says whoever openly incites segments of the society to enmity or hatred towards another group based on social class, race, religion or sectarian or regional differences in a manner that may present a clear and imminent danger to public safety shall be sentenced to imprisonment of from one to three years.

Altun received messages of solidarity from various circles. Even Geert Wilders, an anti-Islamic Dutch politician, tweeted about her detention, saying in Turkish that she is a hero.

Wilders frequently criticizes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party for deviating from secularism and calls on Turks to elect a secular leader who will promote women’s rights and prevent an influx of Arab refugees into the country.

In the past few years prosecutors have taken action against thousands of people in Turkey under Article 216 of the TCK, which is feared to be mostly used to silence dissent.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) filed a criminal complaint against Altun at the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday on allegations of insulting religious values and inciting hatred and enmity among the people. The Diyanet claimed that Altun’s remarks on Islamic law contravene the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights and that as a result, she must be prosecuted.

The results of a study by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) indicate that the Turkish population favors a secular and democratic government. In 2016, 75 percent of participants expressed a desire to live in a secular state, a figure that rose to 81 percent in 2020. Similarly, a significant segment of the population is satisfied with living in a democratic country. The proportion of those who prefer a legal system based on Sharia law fell from 22 percent in 2016 to 17 percent in 2020.

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