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Instagram model charged in Turkey over photos at Sex Museum in Amsterdam

Instagram influencer Merve Taskin poses for a photo in Çanakkale, Turkey. Merve Taskin/Instagram

A 23-year-old Instagram influencer says she’s being prosecuted under obscenity laws in her native Turkey after she posted photos taken at the world-famous Sex Museum in Amsterdam over a year ago.

Merve Taskin says she visited the Sex Museum with some friends for her 22nd birthday in January 2020. The model snapped a few photos with the paintings and various penis-shaped paraphernalia at the museum, then posted the images for her more than 580,000 followers on Instagram.

“My purpose was to make jokes,” Taskin told BBC News.

But the authorities in Turkey didn’t find the photos very funny, and they arrested Taskin on two separate occasions after her return home.

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The Instagram model says she’s now facing prosecution under Turkey’s restrictive obscenity law, which makes it a crime to publish material that is deemed offensive on the internet. Anyone found guilty under Article 226 of Turkey’s penal code can be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

“I don’t want to go to jail for a photo I shared in the sex museum in Amsterdam,” she told the Het Parool newspaper in the Netherlands.

Taskin says the authorities first arrested her in the spring of 2020, a few months after her trip abroad. She told Het Parool that she gave a statement to police about the photos, and that she was released afterward.

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“I thought it was over, but months later I was arrested again,” she said. “I was then detained overnight and I then explained the posts to a prosecutor. He then said I was free.”

Taskin again thought her troubles were over. Then she received a court summons via text message earlier this summer. She is due to face an obscenity charge on Oct. 26, according to a screenshot of the summons obtained by BBC News.

Human rights groups have raised concerns about censorship laws in Turkey, where citizens can be prosecuted and jailed for criticizing the government or violating the social expectations of the far-right ruling party.

“Thousands of people face arrest and prosecution for their social media posts, typically charged with defamation, insulting the president, or spreading terrorist propaganda,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its latest report on Turkey.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown “growing contempt for political rights and civil liberties” in recent years, according to Freedom House, which deemed the country to be “not free” in its latest report.

The government crackdown on individual freedoms dates back to 2016, when Erdogan defeated an attempted coup against him.

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Taskin says she’s worried about the charges against her, but she is prepared to face them in court. She’s also deleted some of the offending images from her social media pages, though one post still shows her posing in front of some nude paintings at the museum.

The images did not trigger Instagram’s nudity filter when they were initially posted.

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The Sex Museum denounced the charge against Taskin this week, calling it “absolutely ridiculous.”

“This is such a sad situation,” the museum wrote on Instagram.

Museum director Monique van Marle told BBC that she reached out to Taskin to offer her support. Van Marle told Taskin that she was “sorry to hear about the trouble,” and that Taskin is a “great role model to other women.”

“Our museum is intended to educate people all around the world about the history of sex,” van Marle told Taskin.

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“We admire you for expressing yourself and posting such pictures.”

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