I was at court on Monday. I had to go with a lawyer and hand a letter of confession to a judge. As a result I am to be charged with insulting the dignity of the Prime Minister of Turkey, and face a possible jail sentence of three years.
Let me explain what happened.
In March this year the Turkish Peace and Justice Coalition (Baris ve Adalet Koalisyon–BAK) were given council permission to put up a ‘Peace Tent’ on the waterfront at Kadikoy (a district of Istanbul where I live). It displayed anti war pictures, posters and banners. There were stands with information and a stage at one end for speeches and concerts.
I took along some of my own antiwar collages (mostly featuring Bush and Blair) to ask if they could be included. It was the first day and BAK was still busy getting everything together, but one guy knew me from exhibitions I’ve done in the past, and gave me carte blanche. I put my pictures (about 10 altogether) up on the inner flap at the entrance. They stayed there for the next few days, attracting the interest of visitors. I didn’t spend much time at the fair myself.
Two days before the Peace Fair was due to end I decided to add a new collage–one of Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Erdogan with the body of a dog, winning first prize in a show, having a Stars n’Stripes rosette attached to his collar by George W Bush. The tent was busy at the time I went. No-one noticed as I stuck it up and left.
When I returned next afternoon I found all my pictures gone. Questioning some stewards I learned that the previous evening a couple of civil police inspecting the tent had taken exception to my picture of Prime Minister Erdogan as a dog and called the uniformed police.
This story which appeared in several of last week’s Turkish newspapers explains the situation:
The “Bush’s Dog” court case
“The case against Global Peace and Justice Coalition (BAK) member Erkan Kara for “insulting the dignity of the Prime Minister” has opened. If found guilty he faces a penalty of from 1 to 3 years in prison.
Kara was arrested after a poster showing Prime Minister Erdogan as Bush’s dog’ was stuck up inside the tent erected on March 11 for BAK’s Peace Fair in central Kadikoy to protest the occupation of Iraq by USA.
According to Sesonline, civil police inspecting the place noticed the poster and arrested those on duty in the tent, Erkan Kara, Gulen Sahin, Mehmet Demir, Filiz Ulget and Burak Delier. The poster was also taken.
After statements made to the public prosecutor, charges were dropped against the accused Demir, Sahin, Ulget and Delier, but it was determined that Erkan Kara being responsible for the tent, a charge of insulting the Prime Minister should be brought against him.
Refusing to accept his responsibility, Kara said: “A lot of people were coming and going in the tent. I didn’t see who put the picture up.” The case opens next week at Kadikoy Magistrates Court.”
When I learned about the situation I agreed to write a letter claiming sole responsibility for the offending picture. I went with BAK’s lawyer to the court building this week and presented thde letter officially to the judge, asking for the charge to be dropped against the hapless Kara.
Now however, it is me who will have to face the charge. The date for my appearance in court has yet to be announced. It may take months.
Article 301 of the Turkish constitution makes it an offence to insult the “Turkish identity” or state institutions, including the armed forces. This is a restriction of freedom of speech that does not exist the countries of the EU, and if Turkey really wants to become a member of that organization it would be advisable for them to remove it.
I don’t want to go to prison.
MICHAEL DICKINSON is an English teacher working in Istanbul, Turkey. Dickinson did the cover art for two of CounterPunch’s books, Dime’s Worth of Difference and Serpents in the Garden, as well as Jeffrey St. Clair’s Grand Theft Pentagon. He can be contacted at http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/