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Charges brought against two cartoonists may signal increasing censorship, fears CRN

(CRN/IFEX) - Further to the International Press Institute's 24 January 2008 report that two political cartoonists - "Cumhurryet" cartoonists - were under investigation for unflattering cartoons about the President, CRN has confirmed that the two are being charged with violating criminal code article 299, which prohibits defaming the President of the Republic, currently Abdul Gul. If found guilty, the cartoonists can be sentenced to up to four years in prison. In the recent past cartoonists were regularly charged with civil code offences relating to personal injury and most of those cases have been thrown out of court. These charges indicate an escalation of censorship against editorial cartoonists in Turkey.

In this case, the Minister of Justice is the party instigating the investigation. It is almost impossible that the president is unaware of the charges laid against these cartoonists. Both cartoonists, accompanied by their lawyers, have been to court for a preliminary hearing and are awaiting further actions by the Ministry of Justice.

The cartoon that Kart drew depicted the president as a scarecrow in a corn field claiming powerlessness over the actions of his 16-year-old son. The son is involved in commodities (corn) trading. Kart's cartoon was published on 28 November 2007. The cartoon that got Tamocin into trouble was published a day later.

CRN strongly protests the investigation of these cartoonists as contrary to their basic rights as journalists under Article 19 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory country. CRN believes that these two fine cartoonists were exercising their rights and responsibilities as journalists to freely express their opinions in the form of their drawings.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in Ankara instituted newly revised criminal codes in 2005 hoping to more closely comply with European Union entry requirements. According to the Human Rights News Site, these new codes failed to change the old laws concerning insult to the president, insulting "Turkishness or the organs of state" or insulting the flag.

The hundreds of political cartoonists in CRN's international network are closely watching the situation of these two journalists. CRN is aware of Turkey's recent very positive moves towards strengthening the free speech rights of all journalists as part of a broader strategy for EU entry and is surprised that, at this time, these journalists are being attacked for opinions that should be protected under Turkey's own freedom of expression laws.

Cartoonists Right Network, International is a global NGO monitoring the safely and well-being of political cartoonists who find themselves in danger because of the impact of their professional work. It has chapters in over 20 countries and a field office in Ploisesti, Romania.

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