Lord of the Rings director has issued a statement in defense of Bilgin Ciftci, a Turkish doctor who lost his job and is facing prison time for having shared a meme on social media that compared President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Gollum, the bony, greedy hermit of the book and film series.
“If the images below are in fact the ones forming the basis of this Turkish lawsuit, we can state categorically: None of them feature the character known as Gollum. All of them are images of the character called Smeagol,” Jackson said in a joint statement with screenwriters Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens to The Wrap. Below are the images in question, which resulted in Ciftci receiving a personal lawsuit from Erdogan and facing the criminal charge of “insulting the president”:
— A.Kadir Yildirim (@akyildirim) October 15, 2015
The joint statement argues that Smeagol, the uncorrupted version of Gollum, “is a joyful, sweet character. Smeagol does not lie, deceive, or attempt to manipulate others. He is not evil, conniving, or malicious — these personality traits belong to Gollum, who should never be confused with Smeagol.” It goes on to describe Smeagol as “very loveable.”
Ciftci’s attorneys are not denying that he compared the President to the fantasy character, but are instead arguing that the comparison is not defamatory. The judge in the case has stated that he has not seen the films or read the books, and so has called upon a bevy of expert witnesses to testify, including “two academics, two psychologists, and one movie expert.”
The defense has protested that prosecutors have, while admitting to have never seen the films, defined Gollum as “the monster in a bad role.” “We said Gollum can’t be defined as evil. The character itself is a war between good and bad. He is basically seen as a victim of society,” Ciftci’s lead defense attorney told reporters.
It is not yet clear whether the judge will admit Jackson’s statement as evidence into the case. Meanwhile, others involved with the Lord of the Rings films are reacting with shock to the case while refusing to participate in the debate on the nature of the character in question. Elijah Wood, who plays Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings series, has described the case as “horrifying”:
That Bilgin Ciftci faces jail time for comparing Erdogan to Gollum/Smeagol, regardless of wether he’s good or bad, is horrifying.
— Elijah Wood (@elijahwood) December 3, 2015
Ciftci himself appeared in good spirits in a statement to the Independent, where he expressed surprise at his legal situation. “I see it as a question of freedom of speech and of humour. I don’t think I’ve done anything to regret,” he told the British newspaper.
Ciftci is the latest in a string of private citizens prosecuted and, in some cases, imprisoned for criticism or comic relief at the expense of Erdogan. Even children who have been accused of tearing down Erdogan posters or posting disparaging remarks online have faced legal consequences. For publications, the consequences have been graver: police raided the headquarters of the magazine Nokta following a report to officials that it was preparing to publish a political cartoon depicting Erdogan taking a selfie with the coffin of the dead soldier.