The offices of LeMan, one of Turkey’s leading satirical magazines, have been reportedly attacked by supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after criticism of the magazine appeared in the pro-government newspaper, Yeni Safak. The latest issue of LaMan has also been banned from newstands according to numerous sources. The cover of the banned issue suggests that both soldiers and civilians involved in the country’s recent unsuccessful coup were pawns in a larger game.
In the cartoon, the hand on the left says: “I drive the soldiers.” The hand on the right says: “I see [like I accept your challenge], I drive the 50%.” (Erdoğan often says he has 50% of the votes.)
Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawence University, says the attack on the LeMan offices came after a newspaper article suggesting “that they [at LeMan] were pro-coup. The ban came a few hours after news of the attacks.”
CRNI’s sources say the mob gathered at LeMan’s office around 3AM Wednesday morning, but no magazine staff were present and police successfully turned the demonstrators away.
“I wish I were more surprised,” Eissenstat says, “but the truth is all forms of dissent are under attack right now in Turkey. Tolerance for opposition voices is almost non-existent. Cartoon magazines like Leman, Penguen, and Uykusuz have a special place in Turkish popular culture: they have often been at the forefront of free speech debates and have sometimes been targeted for government sanction. In the present climate, I don’t think any independent voice in Turkey can feel safe.”
LeMan’s tweets since the magazine’s ban, Eissenstat told CRNI, “underline their commitment to freedom of expression and have featured a series of cartoons critical of the Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom the government claims was responsible for the coup. The implicit – and entirely valid – argument that they are making is that their magazine has been critical of Gulen for years (indeed were critical even when he was a government ally). The idea that they supported the coup in any way is simply absurd.”
Erdogan has a history of confronting cartoonists. He has twice taken Cumhuriyet cartoonist Musa Kart to court, most recently in 2014. In 2015, Penguen cartoonists Cartoonists Bahadir Baruter and Ozer Aydogan were given 14-month prison sentences, later reduced to a fine, for a cartoon critical of Erdogan.