Turkey Prepares to Take Dutch Populist Geert Wilders to Court over Cartoon

Geert Wilders Tweet
Geert Wilders / Twitter

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a lawsuit Tuesday against one of Europe’s best known populist leaders, Geert Wilders, on charges of “insulting the president,” a crime in Turkey.

Wilders joins thousands Erdogan has so prosecuted for insulting him since coming to power. The lawsuit follows a war of words triggered by France’s crackdown on radical Islam after the beheading of a teacher.

Wilders – who leads the official opposition party in the Dutch Parliament – had published a cartoon of Erdoğan wearing a bomb in a turban on Friday, his response to Turkey’s increasingly forceful attacks on France. Last week, Erdogan had insulted French President Emmanuel Macron by saying the leader needed mental health treatment for his reaction to this month’s Islamist terror attack in a Paris suburb. Macron objected to the attack.

The French state has launched a small-scale crackdown on radical Islamists after the murder of a history teacher who had shown pupils in his class a cartoon of Mohammed as part of a lesson about the freedom of expression. Authorities have shut down a mosque and may dissolve dozens of organisations with radical links in short order.

Turkish political leaders were full-throated in their condemnations of Mr Wilders for his defence of France’s actions, calling him a fascist. Erdogan’s foreign minister slammed “the racist losers of Europe.” Turkish government-friendly newspaper Sabah reported remarks of a spokesman Monday that Europe was becoming “an increasingly dangerous place for Muslims.” For his part, Mr Wilders shot back to demand the Turkish ambassador be expelled from the Netherlands, calling Erdogan himself a dictator.

Now Mr Wilders has joined thousands of Turks – as many as 29,000, according to Politico – who have been prosecuted by Erdogan since he came to power in 2014 for the Turkish crime of “insulting the honor and dignity of our president and of targeting Erdogan’s personality, dignity and reputation.” The crime carries a penalty of as much as four years in prison.

If the Dutch politician was convicted he would be unlikely to travel to Turkey deliberately to carry out the sentence, especially given he has lived under constant police protection for 16 years because of the severe threat to his life from radical Islamists. Turkey and the Netherlands do have an extradition treaty, however, meaning the Turkish government can request that the Netherlands arrest and hand over individuals.

Wilders is not the first European pursued and harassed by the Turkish government for refusing to show sufficient respect to their president. In 2016, a German comedian wrote a defamation poem about Erdogan in which he described the Islamist strongman as having relations with goats, men, and children. Germany banned the poem and hauled its author before a court, charging him with insulting a head of state after Turkey demanded action be taken against the man.

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