Turkey ex-football star on trial for insulting Erdogan

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.     AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

Former Turkey football star Hakan Sukur went on trial on Thursday at an Istanbul court in absentia on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on social media.

Sukur is one of several thousand people including journalists, politicians and the occasional celebrity, to face legal proceedings on hugely controversial accusations of insulting the Turkish leader.

The lawyer of Sukur, one of the stars of Turkey’s third place performance in the 2002 World Cup, told the court that his client had moved to the United States.

Ali Onur Guncel said his client could give testimony from the United States if evidence provided by the defence was found to be insufficient.

According to Turkish media, Sukur had accused Erdogan of theft in a tweet in February 2015, without naming him directly.

Prosecutors have asked in the indictment for Sukur to serve up to four years in jail.

Sukur, a striker whose football career stretched from 1987-2007, was by far the most prolific goalscorer in the history of the Turkish national side, finding the net 51 times in 112 appearances.

His goal after just 11 seconds of play against South Korea in 2002 remains the fastest goal in World Cup history.

After football, Sukur went into politics and was in 2011 elected an MP with Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

But he resigned in 2013 after a vast corruption probe that targeted Erdogan and his inner circle, siding with the movement of his arch-foe, the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Sukur had voiced objections to the government move to shut down schools run by Gulen’s movement Hizmet.

His lawyer’s comments confirm that Sukur has left his home country for the United States have ended uncertainty over his whereabouts.

Sukur had previously insisted his presence there was merely temporary to learn English and open a football academy.

Opponents say Erdogan has become an increasingly polarising figure in Turkey since becoming president in 2014, showing zero tolerance for any criticism on social media or on the streets.

But the president’s supporters insist fair criticism is allowed and a line is only drawn when it boils over into insults.

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