The Islamist government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sentenced two cartoonists to 11 months in prison for drawing a magazine cover in which some claim it is implied that Erdogan is homosexual. The cartoon also overtly depicts Erdogan discussing killing journalists.
Turkish outlet Today’s Zaman reports that the cartoonists, Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan of the magazine Penguen, were initially sentenced to spend nearly a year in court, though the court later converted the sentence into a fine of 7,000 Turkish lira ($2,721.16) each.
Baruter and Aydoğan’s cover shows Erdogan in the background of two civil servants shaking hands, with one making a hand gesture towards Erdogan–his thumb and index finger forming a ring. While in the United States this hand gesture is at the center of a popular adolescent game, in Turkey it indicates that the target of the hand gesture is gay.
The man making the hand gesture in the cartoon says to Erdogan “Congratulations, sir. Welcome to your palace,” while Erdogan responds “What a bland celebration. We could have at least sacrificed a journalist [to eat].”
The magazine has responded to the sentence by republishing the cover on Twitter with the message, “We like our own, we will continue to draw our cartoon.”
Biz içimizden geldiği gibi karikatürlerimizi çizmeye devam edeceğiz. pic.twitter.com/BHFBywG6HC
— penguen (@penguendergi) March 25, 2015
Daily Zaman notes that the cartoonists deny they intended to call Erdogan gay, stating, “The magazine would not make such a cheap joke on the cover. The joke on the cover is a metaphor about the victimization of journalists.”
It is worth noting that Daily Zaman itself has come under attack from the Erdogan government. The Twitter accounts of two top editors of the newspapers were blocked this week following tweets a Turkish court considered “insulting” to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
The Turkish government has become increasingly restrictive of both journalists and satirists alike, particularly on the internet. In early March, the government announced that 68,000 websites would be permanently banned from reaching Turkey for “blasphemy,” including the website of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was attacked by radical Islamists earlier this year. Private Turkish citizens have been individually targeted for using social media to criticize or even joke about the president, a crime in Turkey.
International observers have grown increasingly concerned over Turkey’s moves to restrict freedom of expression. Regarding the Penguen cartoonists specifically, a senior official of the Council of Europe condemned the sentence, adding: “I am very concerned about reports from Turkey indicating that there is an increase in the number of criminal cases for alleged insults against the president of the Turkish Republic.”