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Cartoonist convicted, fined for satirising mayor

(BIANET/IFEX) - On 21 September 2007, the Kocaeli Second Penal Court sentenced cartoonist Muhammet Sengöz to 11 months and 20 days' imprisonment for a satirical cartoon published in the "Free Kocaeli" newspaper. Kocaeli is a province to the east of Istanbul.

The case was brought against Sengöz by Greater Kocaeli mayor Ibrahim Karaosmanoglu. The sentence comes despite the prosecution's expressing the view that Sengöz should have been acquitted.

Sengöz's cartoon was a response to billboards that Karaosmanoglu had put up around the city to praise his achievements. A constant theme on the billboards was a person asking, "What's next, Mayor?" In Sengöz's cartoon, a man with his back to the reader and with his trousers down asks, "Who's next, Mayor?"

The newspaper's editor, Ali Gündogdu, found the fact that a case was opened worrying in itself: "Those who feel uncomfortable [with humourists] are trying, like Prime Minister Erdogan and the whole higher echelon of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), to use the courts to intimidate the press and humourists."

The prosecutor argued that the cartoon, published on 21 July 2007, did not contain an insult, but that it was instead a criticism. Sengöz himself said at the trial: "My caricature is a citizen's protest." The municipality's lawyer, however, insisted on punishment.

The court decided that Sengöz had overstepped the limits of criticism and he was sentenced to one year and two months' imprisonment for insult. This was then reduced to 11 months and 20 days, and the prison sentence was converted into a 7,000 YTL (approx. US$5,800) fine. The newspaper's lawyer has announced that he will appeal against the sentence.

Sengöz, who has won many national and international awards, said that he respected the court's decision. Because the case was still continuing, he could not comment on the case, but said, "I will continue to draw and to criticise with my cartoons."

Born in 1964, Sengöz graduated from the Marmara University Fine Arts Faculty (Istanbul). On 17 August 2001, two years after the earthquake which shook the Marmara region, he published a book of cartoons relating to the earthquake entitled "Is there anyone there?" He has a daily cartoon in the "Free Kocaeli" newspaper and published a book of collected cartoons from the newspaper in 2003.

He has received awards from the "Cumhuriyet" newspaper, the Ankara Chamber of Pharmacists, the Mersin Chamber of Architects and the Human Rights Association, the Caricaturists' Association, the British Cultural Delegation and the "Corum News" newspaper.

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