Ayşegül Usta - Hürriyet / Istanbul, March 20 () - Two Turkish cartoonists face up to two years in jail on charges of “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, over a satirical piece on free speech in which they allegedly included a hidden offensive gesture.
Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan, cartoonists for the popular satirical weekly Penguen, have been sued by Erdoğan for the Aug. 21, 2014 cover of the magazine. In the picture, Erdoğan is seen asking whether officials at the new presidential palace in Ankara have prepared “any journalists to slaughter” referring to ritual sacrifice in Islam.
Erdoğan’s lawyers claim that the hand of the official seen in the cartoon while welcoming Erdoğan was in the shape of an offensive gesture according to Turkish culture, and demand that the court punishes the cartoonists for “insulting a public official.”
Baruter pleaded not guilty to the charges at court. “If you look at the whole picture, you see that the joke has got nothing to do with the gesture. There is no such joke technique” he said.
Aydoğan also pleaded not guilty, arguing that Baruter drew the joke as he conceived it and “such a simple thing could not be included in this joke.”
After both parties testified, the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance in Istanbul adjourned the case on March 20 until the hearing for the verdict.
This is not the first time Erdoğan has sued Penguen. He had previously demanded 40,000 Turkish Liras in compensation from the magazine after they published a cover depicting the then-prime minister as various animals.
The magazine had published that cover to support the cartoonists from daily Cumhuriyet and daily Evrensel, who were earlier condemned to pay non-pecuniary damages to Erdoğan. A court in Ankara ruled to dismiss that case in 2006.
More than 70 people in Turkey have been prosecuted for “insulting” Erdoğan since he was elected president in August 2014. Daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar testified in Istanbul on Feb. 26 over allegations that he insulted the head of state in an interview with a prosecutor who had been investigating corruption, describing the process as a “kind of deterrence policy.”
Most recently on March 9, a local journalist in southern Turkey was sentenced to a five-month suspended prison sentence, while the houses of two more journalists from the same city were raided by police, all for “insulting” Erdoğan on their social media accounts.