Erdoğan must tolerate criticism

Erdoğan must tolerate criticism

According to a Turkish saying, he (or she) who goes to the hamam must be prepared to sweat. This means that if you are taking on a particular job you must be prepared to put up with its downside. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not want to observe this.

His intolerance is increasingly showing through the number of libel and slander cases opened by him against journalists, caricaturists, artists, and ordinary citizens, many of which result in convictions. Erdoğan’s sense of the democratic right of critical free expression is limited, if it exists at all. To cite another Turkish saying, he wants a rose garden without the thorns.

The latest to be hounded by him are two cartoonists from “Penguen,” our very own version of Charlie Hebdo. Those who know Turkey well are aware that ruthless political satire has a history that goes all the way back to the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II.

To cite a famous example, Abdulhamid, who was also known for his intolerance, banned all depictions and references to large noses in political caricatures and writings because of his own disproportionate nose, and sent all those who defied him to prison. That was over a century ago. Erdoğan’s behavior shows that some things change little in Turkey.

The Hürriyet Daily News carried the details of the latest case on Wednesday. Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan were sued over Penguen’s Aug. 21, 2014 cover, printed after Erdoğan’s election as president.

In the cover picture, Erdoğan is depicted asking why officials greeting him at the new presidential palace in Ankara had not prepared some journalists to be slaughtered.

The reference was to the ritual Islamic sacrifice of sheep for the sake of an auspicious beginning to anything. The case was initially opened by a private citizen on the grounds that the hand gesture in the cartoon of one of the officials greeting Erdoğan carried homosexual connotations and was insulting to public officials.

Erdoğan’s team did not waste the opportunity and became a party to the case, even though it was not opened on the grounds of a direct insult to Erdoğan. Ultimately, Baruter and Aydoğan were each convicted to 11 months and 20 days in prison, which was converted to a fine of 7,000 Turkish Liras.

This is only the latest case showing the extent to which the judiciary has been co-opted to protect Erdoğan’s reputation, at the expense of the freedom of expression.

Responding to a parliamentary question by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Justice Ministry revealed recently that throughout the seven months that Erdoğan has been in office as president, 105 investigations have been initiated against people who allegedly insulted him, resulting in eight arrests.

The fact that former “Miss Turkey,” Merve Büyüksaraç, is facing four-and-a-half-years in jail for allegedly insulting Erdoğan by posting a satirical poem taken from a magazine on her Instagram site has even become world news, further damaging Erdoğan’s already tarnished international prestige.

If prosecutors and judges in this country are aiming to take every political barb flung at Erdoğan seriously, they have an uphill struggle and are engaged in a war that they will ultimately lose. They may think they are protecting Erdoğan’s image, but the opposite is actually happening.

Previous Turkish presidents were generally respected due to the office they held, which is supposed to be above party politics according to the Turkish constitution. Erdoğan has violated this elemental rule and is acting as a president who works only for his own constituency, not for all of Turkey as he should.

He therefore invites the criticism he gets and will ultimately have to learn to live with this. If he is not prepared to do so, then he has to be prepared to sue many more people, and brace himself for the fresh damage that this will to his reputation at home and abroad.