As diplomatic relations between France and Turkey deteriorate over the dozen Jyllands-Posten “Muhammad cartoons” reprinted by Charlie Hebdo magazine, cited in the terrorist atrocity there in 2015 and more recently the killing of teacher Samuel Paty, President Erdoğan has been caricatured as a slovenly lech on the latest cover of the magazine, prompting a criminal investigation. Our Executive Director Terry Anderson gives his personal response to the Turkish leader’s new effort to lead the global conversation on the limits of free expression.
“For as long as I have been associated with CRNI – in fact, since the earliest days of the organisation itself – Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been an ardent, committed and lavish persecutor of cartoonists, first as prime minister and then as president of Turkey.
“The repeated criminal prosecutions of Musa Kart are the most obvious example but the list of other incidents under his premiership is extensive: the repeated detention of Doğan Güzel, inaugural winner of our Courage in Cartooning Award; cartoonists Bahadir Baruter and Ozer Aydogan of Penguen magazine, fined for maybe insulting Erdoğan (all depending on your interpretation of a drawing of a hand gesture); Cumhuriyet columnists Hikmet Çetinkaya and Ceyda Karan, jailed for running Charlie Hebdo cartoons; Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff, kicked off Turkish internet, his local book publisher harassed by police; Le Man magazine under attack and banned from newsstands; the closure of Gırgır magazine and detention of cartoonist Seyfi Şahin; and the jailing of graphic novelist Nuri Kurtcebe, again for ‘insulting’ the president.
“The situation intensified after the 2016 coup attempt and subsequent referendum in 2017 that rendered additional powers to the presidency. The Punto 24 organisation’s Expression Interrupted project continues to exhaustively catalogue the state’s grand effort to undermine and destroy independent media and critical voices in Turkey.
“That Erdoğan – the industrial-scale censor; this monstrous egotist unable to abide the least suggestion of an insult real or imagined; the world’s foremost serial prosecutor of activists, artists, comedians, critics, reporters and rebels – might now try to style himself an authority on the limits of free speech is absurd. As for references made to “cultural racism and hatred” I leave anyone familiar with the history of the Kurdish people to judge the sincerity with which modern Turkey expresses that kind of grievance.
“So soon after the grotesque murder of teacher Samuel Paty and while the trial of alleged co-conspirators in the 2015 attack at Charlie Hebdo continues the chances of French citizens being extradited over cartoons are quantumly remote, and Erdoğan knows it. He and his cabinet’s stance is populism and nationalism through and through, any professed offence a wearily familiar refrain, any attempt to monopolise the moral high ground laughable on its face. If I didn’t know better I’d say he’d finally given up on politics and was giving satire, albeit rather dull and on-the-nose satire a whirl.”