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RIGHTS >Turkish cartoonists sentenced to jail for insulting Erdoğan

Ayşegül Usta - ISTANBUL

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Two cartoonists for the popular satirical weekly Penguen have been jailed to 11 months in prison, over a satirical piece on free speech in which they were convicted of including a hidden gesture “insulting” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Cartoonists Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan were sued for the Aug. 21, 2014, cover of the magazine, which satirized Erdoğan’s election as Turkey’s president. In the drawing, Erdoğan is seen asking whether officials at the new presidential palace in Ankara have prepared “any journalists to slaughter,” referring to ritual sacrifice in Islam, to mark his inauguration.

Soon after the publication, a Turkish citizen named Cem Safcıer filed a complaint to the Prime Ministry, arguing that the “ball-shaped” hand gesture of the official seen buttoning his jacket while welcoming Erdoğan in the cartoon is used to imply that the person being addressed is homosexual. 

A prosecutor then prepared an indictment to open a lawsuit, claiming that the hand gesture was “against the ethical and cultural norms of Turkish society” and “went beyond the right of criticism to insult.” 

Erdoğan’s lawyers, who stepped into the case, sided with the prosecutor, demanding that the court punish the cartoonists for “insulting a public official.”

The cartoonists, who faced a prison sentence of up to two years, defended themselves in the first hearing of the case at the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance in Istanbul March 19. 

“If you look at the whole picture, you see that the joke has got nothing to do with the gesture. There is no such joke technique,” Baruter said. 

Aydoğan also pleaded not guilty, arguing that Baruter drew the picture as he conceived it and “such a simple thing could not be included in this joke.”


Cartoonists Özer Aydoğan (L) and Bahadır Baruter (R)

The court, however, sentenced both cartoonists to 14 months in prison on March 24. Considering the “good conduct” of the cartoonists during the trial, the court decreased the sentence to 11 months and 20 days, before converting it to a fine of 7,000 Turkish Liras for each convict.

The crime of “insult” is normally punished by three months in prison according to Turkish law. However, if the complainant is a public servant, the prison term is extended to one year. If the “insult” is conveyed “publicly,” such as via a media outlet, the law stipulates an extra one-sixth increase in the prison term.

Risk of trial for insulting prosecutor, too

Despite the “good conduct” decrease in the verdict, Baruter now faces another trial due to his defense which prompted the court to file a separate criminal complaint. Baruter told the court in his March 19 defense that the “wrong interpretation of the hand gesture by the prosecutor could be related to his subconscious.” The court considered the remark another insult, this time against the prosecutor.


This is not the first time Erdoğan has sued Penguen. He previously demanded 40,000 Turkish Liras in compensation from the magazine after they published a cover depicting the then-prime minister as various animals.

The magazine published that cover to support cartoonists from daily Cumhuriyet and daily Evrensel, who were earlier condemned to pay non-pecuniary damages to Erdoğan. A court in Ankara ruled to dismiss that case in 2006.

More than 70 people in Turkey have been prosecuted for “insulting” Erdoğan since he was elected president in August 2014. Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar testified in Istanbul on Feb. 26 over allegations that he insulted the head of state in an interview with a prosecutor who had been investigating corruption, describing the process as a “kind of deterrence policy.”

Most recently on March 9, a local journalist in southern Turkey was given a five-month suspended prison sentence, while the houses of two more journalists from the same city were raided by police, all for “insulting” Erdoğan on their social media accounts.

March/25/2015

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