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The Perils of Political Cartoonery

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2006, Istanbul: As I was being escorted by armed guards through the dimly lit corridors of Umraniye prison to my allocated cell, a prisoner in a queue heading in the other direction pointed me out to his mate.

“That English guy! He insulted the Prime Minister! It was on the telly tonight.”

We reached an iron cell door, which was unlocked, and after my handcuffs were removed, I was ordered to enter. The door slammed behind me, and I heard the key turn in the lock.

The bunk-lined walls of the dark room were lit by a smoking oil lamp and the shadows of a group of unshaven men in undervests who crouched eating with their hands around a table in the middle of the room. They all stared at me.

“What are you in for?” asked a gruff Turkish voice.

I gulped.

“I made a picture ot the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan with a… with a dog’s body.”

Most of them suddenly stood, and one stepped towards me, his hand raised. To my relief, he clapped me on the shoulder with a ‘Bravo!’, and led me to the table, where I was given a warm welcome and invitation to join my fellow cell-mates’meal.

And so began my life as a criminal in Turkey, where I had been living as an English teacher for 20 years. I didn’t want to go to prison.

Nor would I ever in my life have dreamed that I’d be pursued down midnight streets by a pistol-firing cop.

All because of a bloody collage caricature of a politician!

I kept a journal of the grim events during my following ten-day incarceration with the Turkish police.

Shortly after my release I was called to court, officially charged with “insulting the dignity of the Turkish Prime Minister”, and so began a series of trials which stretched off and on for years. Eventually I was aquitted, But then they changed their minds.

And finally after retrial I was found guilty as charged, and warned by the judge not to make another collage of Tayyip Erdogan for 5 years.

In 2013 I was again arrested in Istanbul and imprisoned for 10 days before being deported from Turkey, after being a resident for 27 years.

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Michael Dickinson and his “criminal collage.”

I spent some time homeless on the streets of London, but now in 2015 I have a bed and a roof over my head, and am not in want of funds, thank God, a survivor of the wrath of Erdogan’s sensitive ego.

And I’m alive – unlike some extremely talented intelligent and witty French cartoonists, who let their imagination run riot in the Parisian ‘Charlie Hebdoe’ magazine, to the mixed delight and indignation of their audience. Unfortunately, the indignation of some seems to have run riot in reply.

Those great assassinated artists will be very sadly missed in this increasingly humourlesss world. Let’s not allow our governments to use this outrage for their own benefit, to increase their controlling power over us.

The cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were considered by some Muslims to be ‘blasphemous’ to Islam.

The modern law of blasphemy in Britain is formulated in article 214 of Stephen’s Digest of the Criminal Law, Ninth Edition, 1950, which reads:

“Every publication is said to be blasphemous which contains any contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus Christ, or the Bible, or the formularies of the Church of England as by law established. It is not blasphemous to speak or publish opinions hostile to the Christian religion, or to deny the existence of God, if the publication is couched in decent and temperate language. The test to be applied is as to the manner in which the doctrines are advocated and not as to the substance of the doctrines themselves. Everyone who publishes any blasphemous document is guilty of the (offence) of publishing a blasphemous libel. Everyone who speaks blasphemous words is guilty of the (offence) of blasphemy.”

No mention of Islam there.

So, let me just equal things up, and say, in tribute to the brave deceased artists, and in defiance to their stupid bloody murderers: FUCK ALL RELIGIONS!

Michael Dickinson can be reached through his website.

Michael Dickinson can be contacted at michaelyabanji@gmail.com.

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