Press censorship in "democratic" Turkey is ripe for mocking

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For a country occasionally lauded for being a democracy in the Muslim world, Turkey sure doesn't champion a free press.


In late 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named the country the world's worst jailer of journalists for the second year in a row.

This week, prominent Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart faced a maximum sentencing of almost 10 years for a cartoon he drew in February of Turkish president (then-prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan.


The cartoon satirizes Erdogan's overlooking an alleged money laundering scheme that implicated 209 people including several high-level state officials, along with the fact that soon after the scandal, Erdogan pulled an Emperor Palpatine: appearing in a meeting of his political party as a 10-foot hologram.

While Erdogan promptly dismissed members of the judiciary and police involved in the corruption probe, none of the 209 implicated suspects were ever sent to trial.  The only person to see legal action was Musa Kart when, after the courts initially rejected his case, a litigious Erdogan pushed a High Criminal Court to heavily prosecute the cartoonist.

The irony is not lost on Kart.

"I think that we are inside a cartoon right now," Kart said in his court defense, "Because I am in the suspect's seat while charges were dropped against all the suspects [involved in two major graft scandals]. I need to say that this is funny.”


In light of the excessive litigation, British editorial cartoonist Martin Rowson led an overnight campaign to further mock Erdogan with caricatures, using the #ErdoganCaricature.


But this isn't Erdogan's first foray into pursuing legal action against his critics, or even against Kart.

In 2005, Erdogan sued the cartoonist for portraying him as a cat tangled in a ball of wool. The litigation cost Kart's newspaper Cumhuriyet $3500 for "publicly humiliating the prime minister."


One might expect Erdogan, who himself once served four months of a ten-month sentence for publicly reciting a poem with anti-state sentiments in 1997, to be more tolerant of free expression.

But when Turkish newspaper Penguen supported Kart with caricatures of Erdogan as a frog, camel, monkey, snake, duck and elephant, Erdogan also sued.


Erdogan's political ego is only emblematic of a much larger press censorship problem in Turkey, where a cozy relationship between the state and certain media continuously threatens journalistic freedom.

Turkish journalist Ali Çimen is currently facing criminal charges for criticizing the chief of the state news agency on twitter.  Earlier this year, the state blocked Twitter for two weeks and Youtube for two months.


Judicial actions rescued those critical sites.  But as in Musa Kart's case—in which the Turkish President pressured a high court to reverse their initial ruling and bring the artist to trial anyway—one politician's vanity threatens to make a joke of the entire system.

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Andy is a graphics editor and cartoonist at Fusion.

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