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Turkey5 February 2008

Two cartoonists face possible imprisonment because of cartoons about president

Reporters Without Borders condemns plans to prosecute two cartoonists employed by the daily Cumhuriyet, Musa Kart and Zafer Timuçin, on charges of “insulting the president” under article 299 of the criminal code, which carries a maximum sentence of five years and four months in prison. They were questioned by prosecutors in the Istanbul suburb of Sisli on 22 January.

“The judicial proceedings initiated against these two cartoonists are arbitrary and unfortunately this case is not unprecedented,” the press freedom organisation said.

Kart and Timuçin are to be prosecuted for cartoons published in November. Kart’s cartoon, published on 28 November, showed President Abdullah Gül as a scarecrow in a cornfield claiming he had no control over his 16-year-old son, who has been trading in corn on commodities markets.

Timuçin’s cartoon, published on 29 November, showed the president emerging from an envelope sent to an Arab prince who was protected by gendarmes while vacationing in the Turkish resort of Bodrum. The gendarmes were reportedly paid 5,000 dollars for the job. In the cartoon, Gül said to the prince: “Your excellency, here is the money the gendarmes give you, and here am I, the rose you are offered so that relations between our countries do no deteriorate.”

Article 299, in effect since 1 June 2005, states: “Any insult to the president is punishable by one to four years in prison. The penalty will be increased by a sixth if the offence is committed openly, and by a third if it is committed by news media.”

A government spokesman said on 24 January that “the proceedings were initiated by the justice ministry” and there was no reason why a trial should not go ahead.

Kart and three other cartoonists have been the targets of prosecutions brought by the prime minister in the past two years. In these cases, the courts said the prime minister should “demonstrate generosity towards humour.”

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