Erdogan’s thin skin is stretching across national borders
Jo Harper, DW, Apr 25 2016
The Turkish consulate is demanding the City of Geneva remove a photo from an exhibition directly blaming Erdogan for the death of a teenage protester. The exhibition is being staged by Geneva-based photographer Demir Sonmez in the Place des Nations, in front of the UN HQ. One of Sonmez’s large photographs is of a protest banner with the portrait of a teenager who died after a 2013 anti-government protest in Istanbul. The photo is one of 58 large format photographs on display in the Place des Nations until May 1. The text on the banner reads:
My name is Berkin Elvan. Police killed me on orders of the Turkish prime minister.
The Turkish consulate protested to the City of Geneva Monday via a letter to the head of the Urban Environment and Security Department, Guillaume Barazzone, asking for the photograph to be removed. Berkin Elvan was a 15-year-old Turkish boy who was hit on the head by a tear-gas canister fired by a police officer in Istanbul while out to buy bread for his family during the Jun 2013 Taksim anti-government protests in Turkey. He died on Mar 11 2014, following a 269-day coma. Widespread demonstrations erupted following his death. Erdogan, who was then prime minister, said the young man had been a member of a terrorist organization. The Administrative Council will deliberate on the matter Tuesday, Esther Alder, a spokesman for the mayor, said. The Geneva-based photographer of Kurdish and Armenian origin can reportedly count on the support of several politicians in Switzerland, including the Socialist Party councilor Carlo Sommaruga, who said:
Interference of a third State in the internal affairs of the City of Geneva is demanding us to limit freedom of expression.
City of Geneva spox R Pagani told the “Courrier” newspaper:
It would be absurd to censor photography. Freedom of expression is freedom of expression!
The Turkish government is attacking critics and political rivals at home and abroad. These include German comedian Jan Böhmermann, who faces criminal proceedings in his home country after insulting Erdogan in a televised skit. The decision to start a German prosecution is based on 1871 legislation banning the defamation of foreign leaders. It has drawn protests that the right of free speech has been undermined in Germany. Turkey has also been stepping up moves against foreign journalists in the country, denying entry to a number of reporters, including a correspondent from German public broadcaster ARD last week. Meanwhile, a Turkish journalist was fined the equivalent of $10k for insulting Erdogan, his lawyer said Monday. Can Dundar from “Cumhuriyet” newspaper was accused of insulting the president, his son Bilal and others. His lawyer Bulent Utku told DPA that the case was connected with articles Dundar wrote about a corruption scandal that hit the government in late 2013. Utku said:
As a journalist he just did his job. He didn’t use an insulting word. Of course we are going to appeal. This decision is not in line with the law.
Dundar and his colleague Erdem Gul are also facing life in prison if found guilty of trying to overthrow the government. Their trial, which is taking place behind closed doors, is set to resume May 6. Erdogan said recently that Dundar and Gul will pay a “heavy price” for reporting on alleged weapons shipments from Turkey to Syrian rebel groups. There are 1,845 people facing prosecution in Turkey for insulting the president.