Friday, September 28, 2007

Censorship In Turkey Pt.II

My previous post was about a type of censorship; namely, the state blocking access to Internet sites it finds unsuitable or unacceptable. In that case, however, it wasn't that the state found the site unacceptable. It was a court blocking the site in on behalf of one person who didn't care for the material therein. A scary precedent, methinks, though I should also point out that I think the blocking of Wordpress probably was more the result of legal ineptitude than a step in a larger conspiracy to limit free speech in Turkey.

This next issue is a matter of censorship in the sense that I usually think of it: The state actually punishing a person because it didn't like something this person expressed. Honestly, I suspect this happens in Turkey, to Turkish citizens, way more than I care to think about, but it doesn't make it into the major media outlets here, and I just don't really actively research human rights issues much anyway. Too depressing, to be honest.

But I know about this case because it's happening to a foreigner-- a British national named Michael Dickinson, who lives in Istanbul. And let me preface this by saying I don't particularly care for his work. He makes collages with political themes. Of the pieces I've seen, posted by Mr. Dickinson himself on the Dave's ESL Cafe's Turkey forum, there were lots of penises and piles of poo, that sort of thing. And I certainly don't disagree with some of his overall themes: anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-petrodollars, and the general mess the world is in today because of these.

Last year, Mr. Dickinson displayed a collage poking fun at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which can be seen on the link above. He was jailed and let go (more details about that are also on the link above), and apparently the charges were dropped. At the trial of the organizer of the show where the offending collage was initially displayed, Mr. Dickinson held up another collage, again parodying Mr. Erdoğan's relationship with George Bush, and was again charged with "insulting the dignity of the Prime Minister."

The latest in this saga is that Mr. Dickinson is facing trial and the possibility of two years in prison for his second shenanigan. And despite the inevitable bundling of undies when one mentions the film Midnight Express to a Turk, let me point out that this would be two years in Turkish prison.

Now, I've already said I personally don't care for Mr. Dickinson's work. That's neither here nor there. I should also point out that I'm not sure how I feel about a foreign national deliberately flaunting the laws of his host country. Obviously there are human rights issues and abuses in Turkey, but part of me thinks this is something Turks need to solve in their own way and in their own context-- a foreigner doing it strikes me as, at worst, patriarchal, and at best, really rude. But, rudeness and bad collages aside, the guy certainly does not deserve two years in Turkish prison, sharing a cell with the kinds of guys who were unable to bribe their way out of Turkish prison. And, rudeness and bad collages aside, I do support the inalienable right of artists to express themselves, no exceptions.

Erdoğan, apparently, disagrees: "Freedom of thought and freedom of the press never amount to freedom of insult; they should not ... If you caricature the prime minister of this country, or anyone else, as an animal, this can never be called freedom (source)." He said this in response to a case he filed in 2005 against a cartoonist who depicted him as a cat. The cartoonist was convicted and fined about $3,700. Censorship, yes, but based on a libel suit, however spurious. In Mr. Dickinson's case, the state is attempting to imprison a man for portraying the Prime Minister as a dog. So, for those not following along, it's $3,700 for a cat, 2 years in prison for a dog.

Scary. Really, really scary.

Sometimes it seems like so many things are happening all around us we can't control. Sometimes it seems like the idiots are winning. There's a petition in support of Michael Dickinson here. Maybe it will help, maybe not. At least there's one small thing we can do. Turkey is on the verge of embarrassing itself once again, and once again, it probably feels perfectly justified in doing so, and doesn't even know why it should be embarrassed.

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