A Turkish court has sentenced two cartoonists to 11 months and 20 days in jail for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Istanbul court on Wednesday ruled to convert the sentence into a fine of 7,000 Turkish liras (approximately $2,700) for cartoonists Bahadir Baruter and Ozer Aydogan working for Penguen, a popular satirical magazine in Turkey.
The cartoon published in August 2014 displays then newly-elected Erdogan entering the presidential palace as he calls it a “dry” welcome, adding, “At least we could have slaughtered a journalist.”
The two cartoonists were the latest ones prosecuted for purported insults against Erdogan.
According a statement by Penguen, a citizen filed a complaint to the prime ministry’s information office following the publication of the cartoon, claiming that the circular hand gesture of the aide in the cartoon, who is holding the buttons of his jacket, implies homosexuality.
In the email he sent, the citizen argued that the depicted aide was making a so-called “ball” gesture, which represents homosexuality in Turkish slang, the magazine said.
The information office then notified the prosecutor’s office, which resulted in an indictment bill and a court case on the cartoon.
Erdogan’s lawyers were involved in the case as the intervening party after the first trial on March 19 was covered by the media, a source close to the case told Al Jazeera.
The prosecutor could open a court case without a complaint by the wronged party as the case was about a state official rather than a regular citizen, the source said.
In line with Turkish law, the regular penalty of three months in prison for the crime of insult was increased to over a year as it involved a state official and was made in a public manner. “Good conduct” reduction decreased the prison term to 11 months and 20 days for Baruter and Aydogan and eventually the sentence was commuted to a fine.
Penguen said the prosecutor’s office demanded sentences for both the dialogue in the cartoon and the hand gesture. The magazine, which said it would appeal the verdict, added that the motivation for the sentence would be clear when the reasoned judgement is publicised.
“We will continue to draw our cartoons as we feel like. We hope this case will be the last example of the efforts to dismay the freedom of thought,” Penguen said.
‘There is a pattern’
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Istanbul, Emma Sinclair, the senior Turkey researcher with US-based Human Rights Watch, said that there was a pattern with the recent prosecutions on alleged insults towards politicians.
“A lot of prosecutors seem to act on their own initiatives in opening cases. There have even been some activists, not only prosecuted, but put into prison for insulting Erdogan.”
She said that Erdogan was not the only Turkish politician pursuing lawsuits on alleged insults of his critics.
Erdogan sued Penguen in 2005 when he was prime minister for depicting him as several different animals. A court threw out the case in 2006.
Dozens of people have been prosecuted in Turkey for allegedly insulting Erdogan – on social media, verbally, and through cartoons.
Most recently, 37 students and teachers appeared in court in the northern city of Trabzon on charges of insulting the president at a protest in February. A 16-year-old is also being tried in a similar case.
In a case opened by Erdogan’s lawyers in February, former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac faces up to 4.5 years in prison over social media comments allegedly insulting to Erdogan.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_uras