“I am very concerned about reports from Turkey indicating that there is an increase in the number of criminal cases for alleged insults against the president of the Turkish Republic. In this connection, I condemn the recent sentencing of cartoonists Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan” CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks said in a written statement March 26.
Muižnieks recalled the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) affords a great deal of protection to freedom of expression, including to information or ideas that may “offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.”
“This sentence is misguided and, along with a pattern of criminal prosecutions, sends a chilling message to media professionals and all those who want to exercise their right to free expression. I urge the authorities to decriminalize defamation, including by repealing the offence of insulting the president of the Republic, in order to restore a more serene climate in which freedom of expression can be safely exercised.”
Baruter and Aydoğan, cartoonists for the popular satirical weekly Penguen, were sentenced to 11 months in prison over a satirical piece on free speech, in which they were convicted of including a hidden gesture which was said to “insult” Erdoğan. In the cartoon, Erdoğan is seen asking whether officials at the new presidential palace in Ankara have prepared “any journalists to slaughter,” referring to ritual sacrifice in Islam, to mark his inauguration.