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Press Censorship in Turkey: Cartoons illustrate lack of press freedom in Turkey - by Mirjam Keunen

In Turkey, prosecution for insulting the nation is almost an occupational hazard for journalists and cartoonists. 

A number of provocative Turkish cartoons are on display at an exhibition in the Netherlands.

 Afterwards the organizers hope an internet auction will raise money to cover the legal costs for these controversial court cases.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a poor sense of humour. In recent years, he has taken many a cartoonist to court. But the deluge of court cases has not stopped the illustrators from mocking the lack of press freedom in the country.

In one cartoon, Sefer Selvi draws the prime minister, dressed in hunting gear, shooting at one of the newspapers he has taken to court. His dog tears up another copy.

"As soon as cartoonists raise taboos like the division between church and state, the army, the Armenian genocide and Atatürk, the founder of the republic of Turkey - the government intervenes," says freelance journalist Mehmet Ülger, chairman of Röportaj, a Dutch organization promoting press freedom in Turkey.

 He organized the exhibition The power of the imagination, which opens in the Press Museum in Amsterdam on 29 January. The murder of publicist and journalist Hrant Dink in 2007 was reason to breathe new life into the organisation, set up in 1996 as a bridge between journalists in the Netherlands and Turkey.

On his computer, there's a cartoon by Sefer Selvi in which prime minister Erdogan paints a circle around a dumbfounded journalist, saying: "If you want to write news, then you have to keep inside the line".

Ülger: "Since 2004 Turkey has had media legislation guaranteeing freedom of the press, as part of the deal for Turkey's accession to the European Union. But press freedom has only improved on paper. Turkey is one of the few countries to protect sources by law. But this doesn't happen in practice. Even the prime minister takes journalists to court."

There have been cases in the Netherlands in which press freedom has come under pressure. Several years ago, Dutch prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende demanded rectification when an imaginary speech by him on Islam was printed in weekly magazine Opinio.

In May 2008, a Dutch cartoonist with the pseudonym Gregorius Nekschot spent the night in a cell for allegedly discriminating against Muslims in his cartoons. Ülger was surprised by the events. "I don't agree with the tenor of the cartoons, but Nekschot has the right to draw what he likes."

In the past years, charges were brought against Turkish journalists and cartoonists at least 190 times. As a result the media are cautious about what they publish, otherwise they risk losing government advertising, the right to accreditation or a press card and being investigated. Only a few media become recalcitrant.

Ülger: "There is a lot of self-censorship, but now and then risks are taken. If there is a lot of publicity around a case, the authorities do not intervene straight away. Sometimes a year goes by before action is taken."

Cartoons illustrate lack of press freedom in Turkey - archief

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