Turkey’s satirical press under attack: “Je Suis Cumhuriyet”
Written by Turkish political analyst / blogger, Gürkan Özturan:
In Turkey, media response to Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris has had two sides, as in many other places. The polarization has been between those that celebrated the attack and those that stood in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo’s press freedom and supported it. In order to stand in solidarity with the French satirical paper, the Turkish satirical magazines Leman, Penguen and Uykusuz have agreed to come out with the same cover page for this week’s issue. Like many cartoonists all around the world, Turkish cartoonists also mourned over the violent massacre. Yet Charlie Hebdo once again came up with the unexpected and drew a cover page that showed Mohammed crying and holding a banner that reads “Je Suis Charlie.”
The French newspaper Libération had offered refuge for the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, and the new issue’s announcement came in their offices too. On the other hand in Turkey, the prominent newspaper Cumhuriyet Daily has been announced to be one of the two newspapers that are allowed to reprint parts of Charlie Hebdo’s latest issue. According to Libération’s news piece, Cumhuriyet Daily from Turkey and Italy’s Il Fatto Quotidianowill be printing parts of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo. Later on the French magazine will be available digitally in four languages, in French, English, Spanish and Arabic.
Turkey’s most popular satirical magazines: Leman, Penguen, Uykusuz
The announcement that Cumhuriyet would reprint parts of the magazine has caused an uproar among some extra-sensitive Islamists in Turkey. While over the past week some pro-government media have been declaring even mentioning of the Mohammed cartoons as blasphemy and an insult to religion, now thousands of people in Turkey have turned to Cumhuriyet as the local target. The newspaper’s headquarters have received countless threats through the night, including serious death threats.
A few hours after the threats starting flowing into Cumhuriyet’s inbox, the mayor of Ankara tweeted his message that this is a plot to make Muslims appear violent. He accused Cumhuriyet of participating in an international plot to provoke devout Muslims to raid the newspaper’s headquarters and play the victim. He also invited all his Twitter followers to take Cumhuriyet to court for blasphemy, which is punishable by imprisonment in Turkey. However the police did not allow the “crime” to be committed and raided the Cumhuriyet Daily’s printing house, to make sure no caricatures of Mohammed are printed. Open censorship has been an issue in Turkey with regard to books, but no raid of a newspaper printing house has taken place for some time.
On the other hand, the daily’s Twitter account announced that the newspaper will reprint parts of Charlie Hebdo’s latest issue in four pages to show their solidarity and support for free speech and press freedom, and that in so doing they have had regard for the sensitivity of the religious citizens of the country. In fact it is largely ignored that the Quran itself does not prohibit representations of the Islamic prophet, but rather the worship of idols.
However, the digital lynching campaign seems to continue as this piece is being written, and the threats might in fact turn into reality. Currently Cumhuriyet holds an unfortunate world record for the number of journalists (eight) that have fallen victim to assassinations and bombings. The last time the newspaper’s headquarters were subjected to a bombing was in 2006, but no one was hurt. However the hate speech and targeting by Islamist media has so far proven to be heavily destructive. The Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink’s case is still referred to as an example. The journalist had been targeted by certain media, which sparked a nationalist reaction and led to his being shot in the back in front of his newspaper on January 19, 2007. Now, the same media’s targeting Cumhuriyet and the satirical magazines reminds one of those unfortunate past events and is perceived as worrisome.
Cumhuriyet Daily’s cartoon problems have appeared previously as well. One of the cartoonists of the newspaper, Musa Kart, once drew then Prime Minister Erdo?an as a cat and was sued for it, which led to a wave of drawing Erdo?an as an animal in the satirical magazines. The famous cartoonist is also on trial and risks a nine-year prison sentence for his drawings in the newspaper. “If I must go to prison for exercising the duties of free press,” he has said, “then so be it. Today caricaturists are sitting on the bench awaiting trial in Turkey, but this proves that justice only comes in the form of a comic drawing here.”
In recent weeks, there has been an uproar in the pro-government media in Turkey with regard to cartoonists, and several columnists have targeted comic relief and portrayed satire as a dangerous weapon.
According to international observers, Turkey has a very low rating for press freedom and is listed as “Not Free” in the Freedom House rankings on journalism. According to PEN Norway’s report on free speech in Turkey, there are still dozens of journalists in prison and dozens more on trial. As Cumhuriyet’s new issue with Charlie Hebdo content will appear at kiosks on Wednesday morning, we will see how the statistics change now; yet it seems as if immediate protection of the newspaper’s headquarters is a necessity. After the violent threats, one can not help but wonder if the imams in Turkey would stand in solidarity and show support for press freedom as did the German-Turk imams in Germany after the attacks in Paris. During the past week millions of people have declared themselves to be Charlie in solidarity. But on Wednesday, it’s “Je Suis Cumhuriyet.”
More stories by Gürkan Özturan @ http://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com
More stories about Turkey @ http://99getsmart.com/category/turkey/