A Pattern of Curbing Dissidence Emerges as Turkey Convicts Cartoonists for Insulting President Erdogan

Two cartoonists for a Turkish satirical magazine have been sentenced for 11 months and 20 days for insulting President Tayyip Erdogan. The usual penalty for the crime of insults was increased to over a year due to the attachment to a public official. The Istanbul court has commuted the sentence for “good behavior” to a fine of 7,000 Turkish liras (approx $2,700 American dollars) for both Bahadir Baruter and Ozer Aydogan, cartoonists at Penguen magazine. The cartoon showed an aide welcoming President Erdogan to the presidential palace. As he approaches, Erdogan says, “But this is so dry. We could have at least slaughtered a journalist.”

According to Penguen, a citizen filed a complaint following the publication of Baruter and Aydogan’s cartoon, claiming that the cartoon suggested President Erdogan was gay. The complaint stated that the circular hand gesture the aide made in the cartoon is a symbol frequently used to insult homosexuals in Turkish slang. Shortly after this complaint was filed, the prosecution office was notified of the cartoon, and indictment charges were brought against the two cartoonists. The court case and subsequent conviction followed soon after. The sentence was for both the dialogue in the cartoon and for the hand gesture. Penguen plans on appealing the conviction, and has openly mocked the case against their cartoonists with new cartoons.

This is not the first time Turkey has prosecuted journalists on alleged insults toward politicians. A clear pattern has emerged where any alleged insults towards President Erdogan will be prosecuted, regardless of age or status. Prosecutors are encouraged to be aggressive with these prosecutions, and seek out opportunities for a defamation conviction. As a result, Turkey has been listed by Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog group, as one of the worst jailers of journalists and “not free” in terms of free speech. Recently, 37 teachers and students have faced charges for alleged insults during a protest in February. Similarly, former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac faces 4.5 years in prison for insults on social media. Earlier in March, a 13-year-old boy was questioned for a Facebook post.