понедельник, 5 января 2015 г.

Turkey’s President Traces a New Internal Threat: The Way He’s Drawn

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/world/europe/turkish-leader-traces-a-new-internal-threat-the-way-hes-drawn.html?ref=world&_r=0

ISTANBUL — In the cartoon, an image of Recep Tayyip Erdogan stands watch while two thieves empty a safe full of cash. “No need to rush,” one of the thieves says with a grin. “We have a holographic watchman,” he adds.
The message in the cartoon, published in February in Cumhuriyet, an opposition newspaper, was unmistakable, coming as members of the Turkish leader’s inner circle were targeted in a corruption investigation.
Mr. Erdogan was not amused. The offending cartoonist, Musa Kart, who had a history of drawing cartoons critical of Mr. Erdogan, was taken to court on charges of insulting the prime minister (now the president), violating the privacy of an investigation and committing libel. Mr. Kart was acquitted in October, leaving him free, for the moment — Mr. Erdogan’s lawyer has appealed the decision — to keep challenging authority with his caricatures of Turkey’s rich and powerful.
“This repetitive cycle of legal actions affects all cartoonists, writers, intellectuals in this country,” Mr. Kart said. “We will continue to work and express what we think for the good of our future generations.”

Photo

A protester who held up this image, published in The International New York Times, has been questioned by the police. Credit Patrick Chappatte





But the episode points to an increasingly difficult environment for editorial cartoonists, who have long been a staple of Turkey’s political culture, as Mr. Erdogan has shown less tolerance for criticism and dissent. Critics of Mr. Erdogan and his government have found themselves embroiled in criminal lawsuits while dozens have lost their jobs — victims, critics say, of government efforts to intimidate dissidents.

Cartoonists continue to publish their work in a range of independent publications and have branched out into social media. But they are worried about what they see as an increasingly oppressive political climate.
“As long as I’ve been aware, there has always been some form of pressure on writers and illustrators,” said Aslan Ozdemir, the editor of Leman, a pioneer of Turkish political cartoon magazines. “Today, we feel the same pressure, but it has changed its face. It might not be the threat of imprisonment as we saw during the 1980 military coup, but it’s an air of oppression by the civilian government.”
Mr. Kart, who faced a libel suit by Mr. Erdogan in 2004, had been left alone in recent years in his hard-hitting critiques of the government.
In 2011, when Mr. Erdogan cracked down on peaceful environmental protests, Mr. Kart depicted him with a hand-shaped tongue spraying tear gas below the title “political discourse.”
In another panel in August of the same year, he mocked Turkey’s Syria policy, depicting Mr. Erdogan and the foreign minister as figures on a Foosball table, declaring their autonomy, but controlled by a hand draped in an American flag.
But Mr. Kart’s cartoon targeting the corruption investigation, which Mr. Erdogan has characterized as an attempt by a rival Islamic group to overthrow his government, appeared to be the final straw. The investigation, which resulted in the resignations of three ministers, was seen as one of the most serious threats to Mr. Erdogan’s rule in more than a decade.
To many proponents of news media freedom, the legal action against Mr. Kart — he faced nearly 10 years in prison on the charges — was a warning to cartoonists that they were not safe from government retaliation.
“The extension of judicial harassment to caricaturists is indicative of the increasing disregard for the right to freedom of expression in the country,” said Alev Yaman, a researcher on Turkey for PEN International, a London-based media rights organization.
“Turkey has a long and rich tradition of political satire,” Ms. Yaman added. “This case not only represents an attack on free speech but also a betrayal of Turkey’s artistic and democratic heritage.”
Mr. Kart’s case was taken up by cartoonists worldwide in a Twitter campaign after Martin Rowson, a Guardian writer and cartoonist, appealed for caricatures of Mr. Erdogan.
A protester’s questioning by the police after holding up a cartoon that appeared in The International New York Times in December has also raised concerns about media freedoms. The cartoon, by Patrick Chappatte, showed Mr. Erdogan slicing meat from a vertical spit emblazoned with a Turkish flag with the word “DEMOCRACY” on it.
Bayram Ali Hanedar, 29, a mathematics teacher, who held up the cartoon at the protest, said he had been questioned by police on suspicion of insulting the Turkish flag. If charged and convicted, Mr. Hanedar faces up to three years in prison.
“It had absolutely nothing to do with slicing up the Turkish flag,” Mr. Hanedar said. “It was about raids on media organizations, tearing Turkish democracy apart.”
Turkish editorial cartoonists have long found ways to thrive in challenging political environments.
GirGir, one of the first Turkish cartoon magazines, had a circulation of more than 500,000 under the junta that took power in 1980 despite being shut down for a month in 1981. A large publishing group bought the magazine in 1989, but faced with declining circulation, the magazine closed in 1993.
Today, many cartoon magazines in Turkey are small, independent and privately owned, sometimes by their contributors, which gives them a financial freedom that publications in the mainstream media do not have.
Leading titles include Leman, Uykusuz and Penguen, which has championed Mr. Kart.
When Mr. Erdogan took Mr. Kart to court in 2004 for a cartoon depicting the leader as a cat, Penguen later produced an issue in which Mr. Erdogan was caricatured as various animals, landing the publisher, Selcuk Erdem, in court on defamation charges.
Charges in both cases were eventually dropped. Mithat Ali Kabaali, the judge who heard Mr. Kart’s case, said in his ruling that the job of a politician included being prepared for criticism as well as praise.
Mr. Erdem said Penguen could afford to take risks because it did not rely on advertising or government permission to invest in other industries, unlike major publishing groups targeted by Mr. Erdogan.
“While media bosses worry about tenders in publicly funded projects, we don’t even run any advertisements,” said Mr. Erdem, who is also an editor and contributor at the magazine. “When there is no money involved, there is more freedom, which readers notice and turn to us as the mass media collapse and go quiet.”
Local news channels and mainstream publications initially ignored the antigovernment protests in June 2013. Social media like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook proved instrumental as alternative news sources and as a way for protesters to vent their frustrations, leading the security services to shut down YouTube for two months and Twitter for two weeks.
But the cartoon magazines also helped fill the void. Leman, for example, printed special protest editions. Circulation surged for some magazines. From an average of 55,000 copies a week, Penguen’s circulation peaked at 80,000 during the protests.
“We were there to express anger and frustration that is not easily translated into words,” Mr. Erdem said. “We like to formalize feelings, to be the voice of our readers.”
For Mr. Kart, that frustration with the system was encapsulated by his day in court, which came just a week after all 96 suspects in the corruption investigation he criticized in his cartoon were acquitted. Critics say the acquittals resulted from a government-led restructuring of the judiciary and a purge of the prosecutors involved in the investigation.
“I feel like we are in a cartoon now,” Mr. Kart said in his testimony, adding that he had no intention of insulting anyone. “I must say it is quite funny that while all charges against the corruption suspects have been dropped, I am the only one here standing accused.”

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