Following up on Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s quest to jail cartoonists who make fun of him, four students in Turkey have been arrested for displaying a banner showing cartoon animals made to resemble Erdogan which were originally published in a Turkish satirical magazine.
— Hürriyet Daily News (@HDNER) July 7, 2018
Three students who carried the banner were arrested, along with one who transported it to the graduation ceremony for Middle East Technical University, according to a report from Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News. Erdogan sued the magazine that first published the cartoon 12 years ago, when he was prime minister, but it was at that time held to be within the limits of free speech by the court.
Times have changed since then, however. Back in April, Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart, along with 13 other staff members of Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, was sentenced to prison, the culmination of a long sham trial resulting from a crackdown on political opponents by Erdogan in response to a failed coup attempt in November of 2016. The arrest of the students traces its origins back to Kart, who was sued for defamation by Erdogan for publishing the following innocuous cartoon depicting Erdogan as a cat tangled in a ball of wool, saying something to the effect of “Don’t worry, I’ve got things under control,” or, in a literal translation “Stop creating tensions. I promised I would solve this.”
It was in response to that lawsuit that the weekly Turkish satirical magazine Penguen published their own cartoon, which would be carried by students in the graduation ceremony 12 years later, leading to their arrest. Though other students at the graduation were carrying signs with messages of political protest, it was the cartoon showing Erdogan’s face on the head of an elephant, cow, camel, frog, snake, bird, giraffe, and monkey which was met with jailing. Penguen shut down in 2017, announcing in a letter on its website:
We said the press shrank in the world, but things are a bit more difficult in our country. Journalists are getting harder and more humorous when it comes to freedom. We still tried to breathe in ourselves in this environment. We want to make our favorite magazine as we like it. Although we can not do it in the quality we dream of, we prefer not to.
One thing that’s clear from all of this, besides the fact that Erdogan is a ruthless dictator unfit to rule: Erdogan really hates having his likeness applied to animals by cartoonists.
Perhaps the problem is that they’re drawing his face on the wrong end of the animal?
Another important conclusion to draw from all of this is the realization of how quickly things can change. It’s easy to imagine the defiant atmosphere in with Penguen and dozens of other cartoonists and outlets defiantly mocked the thin-skinned dictator, especially as the same gleeful mockery can be found in American political cartoons about Donald Trump at places like The Nib or in various newspapers and magazines. It took a little over a decade for that atmosphere of gleeful defiance to change to an environment where journalists and cartoonists can be jailed for 5-7 years under false pretenses.
The same thing could happen anywhere. It could happen here.