Turkey Sentences Armenian Blogger to Jail


A prominent Turkish-Armenian blogger accused a Turkish court on Friday of issuing a "politically-motivated" verdict after being sentenced to jail on charges of illegal construction.

An appeals court in the western coastal city of Izmir sentenced Sevan Nisanyan to two years in prison on charges of building without a permit.

An Istanbul court in May had also sentenced Nisanyan, a self-confessed atheist, to one year in jail for blasphemy over a blog post supporting the controversial anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims" but he has appealed the verdict.

Nisanyan, who also faces up to 16 years in prison on other charges related to construction work on his hotels in the village of Sirince near Izmir, said he would be sent to jail next week.

But in a country littered with illegal constructions, he said the court ruling on Thursday was punishment for his outspoken views about restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey.

"It is politically motivated because in this community, those who try to be an individual and stand firm on their ideas have always been punished," he told AFP.

Nisanyan, 56, turned Sirince into a booming holiday spot after he bought several ruined Greek houses and turned them into hotels.

Thousands of people from around the world flocked to Sirince in December 2012, believing the village -- where many Christians say the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven -- would be spared from the Mayan doomsday.

Nisanyan was convicted of blasphemy over his September 2012 blog defending the anti-Islam film that ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed and sparked angry protests across the world.

"Mocking an Arab leader who centuries ago claimed to have contacted God and made political, financial and sexual benefits out of this is not a crime of hatred," he wrote.

His words touched a nerve in the staunchly secular but majority Muslim nation and he received hundreds of death threats after the court decision.

Turkey has long been criticized for a lack of press freedom and dozens of journalists are in detention, accused of plotting against the Islamist-rooted government or having links with outlawed movements such as the Kurdish rebels.

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