Kart faces a maximum of twenty-nine years for “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member” and “abusing trust”; in brief, Recep Erdoğan’s regime contends that Cumhuriyet staff aided and abetted terrorist organisations such as the PKK as well as the Gülen Movement, alleged perpetrators of last summer’s attempted coup.
A brief glance through Kart’s work reveals the truth. Like almost all cartoonists his chief concern is scrutiny of those in power, whoever they may be.
The pair of cartoons below illustrate Kart’s concerns in recent years as Turkey’s government has become ever more authoritarian and its society less secular.
“Be quick, the ceremony is about to begin!”
“What are these waiting for?” “Restoration of honour.” (Democracy, secularism, law, freedom of speech)
This cartoon puts Recep Erdoğan’s words after the attempted coup last July in the mouth of his exiled opponent, and alleged mastermind behind the coup, Fethullah Gülen. He thereby employs irony to suggest that the two men are akin. Critics of the Gülen Movement consider it a cult of personality and similar observations can be made about the Erdoğan regime.
“I realised that FETÖ was a terror organisation on the 15th of July. I ask for God’s forgiveness.”
As far back as 2004, Kart was depicting Gülen as an infiltrator in the Turkish military.
“Date 12 September 1980 – We have found suitable ground to climb up!”
In these cartoons, Kart derides those who would overturn democracy or suppress freedom by force, be they terrorists, insurgents or military forces.
“History of democracy.”
“And this is the unmanned land vehicle.”
Of course, the subtext to current events is that Erdoğan has attempted to silence Kart twice before, as prime minister and then president. After successfully defending his right to freedom of expression in court against a thin-skinned head of government Kart received our Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award. It is clear that under the emergency powers deployed since July the president has taken the opportunity for revenge on a cartoonist he has long despised. On the 16th of April the Turkish people voted to grant their leader even greater power.
At the time of Kart’s arrest last year Hürriyet newspaper ran a column in his defence, making reference to several of the cartoons above and saying:
“[Kart] drew injustices, hypocritical political pawns, vandals, warmongers, irresponsible beings, terror lords. He has done whatever a humor master needs to. He did his job; and he has done a good job. He criticized strongly, and obviously infuriated some people.
In the past, until quite recently actually, they used to keep canaries inside coal mines, maybe you know about them. The canary’s duty was to die. When its sensitive body collapsed as a sign of the accumulation of toxic gasses in the mine, the miners would recognize the danger and would have time to flee. The canary, by stopping singing and dying, would signal the danger in advance.
Intellectuals live and produce for society, like the canary in the mine. When their voices are not heard, it means disaster is approaching.”
Further support for Musa Kart comes as part of a letter-writing programme to imprisoned journalists by members of the European Parliament who sent their first message to the cartoonist, saying:
Stay strong. We are writing this letter to assure you of our solidarity, to remind you that you are not alone, to tell you that your sarcastic take on the news is cruelly lacking as we witness Turkey’s transformation into an authoritarian regime.
After your arrest last October, on entirely spurious grounds, you have been held in pretrial detention ever since, imprisoned in disgraceful and intolerable conditions.
For long months you have been cut off from the world and deprived of your freedom. And what was your crime? To want to practice your profession in a completely independent manner, to want to tell your fellow citizens the truth, and with humour. Being a cartoonist is not just a job for you, it is a real calling, a calling that earned you the media freedom prize from your colleagues in the association of Turkish journalists.
How terribly the media in Turkey have been treated for almost a year now!
Stay strong, Musa. Turkey, your fellow citizens, your readers, we all need you. Without you, without a free and independent press, citizens are no longer free and independent. You are the guardians of democracy, even more so in troubled times, and and we are grateful to you for that.
Stay strong, Musa!
Even thousands of kilometres away, even still unknown to you, we are at your side, committed to freedom, a free press and a democratic Turkey.
With our full support and sympathy,
Eva Joly, MEP
Ska Keller and Philippe Lamberts, co-chairs of the Greens/EFA Group, on behalf of the group members
Throughout the month Amnesty International’s #FreeTurkeyMedia campaign has gathered cartoons drawn in solidarity with Musa from around the world. Expect more to proliferate as he comes to trial.
— FreeTurkeyMedia (@FreeTurkeyMedia) April 7, 2017