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Turkish cartoonists found guilty of "insulting" Erdogan in cartoon about press freedom

Penguen magazine/CRNI

This statement was originally published on cartoonistsrights.org on 23 March 2015.

Cartoonists Bahadir Baruter and Ozer Aydogan, from the Turkish satirical magazine Penguen, have been found guilty of insulting Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a cartoon on the cover of the magazine's August issue.

The cartoonists' trial began on March 19. The cartoon in question depicted the president meeting two officials outside his newly completed presidential palace, with the cartoon Erdogan saying: “What a bland celebration. We could have at least sacrificed a journalist.”

The cartoonists explained in court that the cartoon was making a comment on the victimization of journalists. The prosecutor alleged that the cartoon was insulting in that one of the men made a certain gesture implying Erdogan was gay. Baruter explained that that was not the intention, stressing too the problematic nature of the fact that the law suit is predicated on the idea that being homosexual is insulting. Aydogan stated that the cartoon was simply a comment on the lack of press freedom in Turkey.

The court sentenced both cartoonists to 14 months in prison on March 24. That sentence was reduced to 11 months and 20 days, for “good conduct” during the trial, and subsequently commuted to a fine of 7,000 Liras each.

Cartoonist Baruter, however, could face another trial on the charge of 'insulting' the prosecutor during the first trial, which has resulted in the court filing a separate criminal complaint. As reported in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News, under Turkish law those found guilty of insulting a public servant can be sentenced to a year in prison. If the purported insult has been made publicly, the sentence is increased by one sixth.

Over seventy people have been prosecuted for 'insulting' President Erdogan since his election last August. Cartoonists and their publications have been previously targeted too, by President Erdogan, but most cases resulted in 'Not Guilty' verdicts.

Their court appearance follows the trial of cartoonist Musa Kart last year, who was cleared of such charges, and other similar cases brought to the courts by Erdogan prior to that, including one against Penguen magazine in 2006 when he sued for 40,000 Lira compensation over a cover depicting the then prime minister as various animals, published in support of the satirical magazines Cumhuriyet, and Evrensel, which had been targeted too. That case against Penguen was dismissed.

Since being made President in August 2014, a recent article in Ileri Haber stated that at least 187 people have been investigated for insulting the president from August 2014 onwards; more than 70 people have been prosecuted.

In response to the last court case, involving cartoonist Musa Kart, the international cartooning community came together in support of Turkish cartoonists within the #ErdoganCaricature campaign, initiated by UK cartoonist Martin Rowson, in support of the right to free speech.

CRNI continues to monitor and publicize such cases, providing assistance if requested, while working alongside the international cartooning community to try and ensure that cartoonists worldwide are protected, and their rights are upheld.

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